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Apple sues editor-in-chief of ThinkSecret
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cambridgebrian
 
 
2005-01-12, 11:55

Originally published on Wednesday, January 12, 2005 in the News section of The Harvard Crimson.

Apple Sues Student
By JOSEPH M. TARTAKOFF
Crimson Staff Writer


Apple Computer, Inc. is suing a Harvard undergraduate who runs a popular Mac information website for disclosing details about unreleased Apple products, including two unveiled at this week’s Macworld conference.

Nineteen-year-old Nicholas M. Ciarelli ’08, known on the internet as Nick dePlume, has run the site, thinksecret.com, since age 13.

Ciarelli’s site announced the arrival of the Mac mini—a $499 computer—and the iLife ’05 software package two weeks before they were introduced at the Apple expo yesterday.

But in a complaint filed in the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara last Tuesday, Apple alleges that Think Secret has not obtained its information legally.

Apple claims that Ciarelli and his company, The dePlume Organization, broke the law when soliciting insider tips online from anonymous sources, “inducing” Apple employees to break their confidentiality agreements with the company.

The suit does not identify Ciarelli by name, saying dePlume’s “true name and identity” could not be confirmed. But a Nov. 11 letter Apple sent to Think Secret ordering the site to stop publishing trade secrets included Ciarelli’s name as publisher and editor-in-chief of Think Secret.

Ciarelli, who is also a Crimson editor, confirmed in an e-mail yesterday that he owns and runs Think Secret.

He wrote in the e-mail that he has done nothing wrong.

“I employ the same legal newsgathering practices used by any other journalist,” he wrote. “I talk to sources of information, investigate tips, follow up on leads, and corroborate details. I believe these practices are reflected in Think Secret’s track record.”

The site, for example, broke the news that Apple would release a digital music player one week before Apple released its first iPod in 2001.

Apple representatives did not return calls seeking comment yesterday. Apple’s attorney, George A. Riley, also did not respond to several phone messages.

Ciarelli, a Wigglesworth resident who hails from New York, wrote that he has not yet hired an attorney.

“Neither the dePlume Organization nor I can afford to defend a suit against Apple, and have few connections in California,” he wrote.

THE CORE OF THE SUIT

Apple’s lawsuit alleges that Think Secret is illegally soliciting Apple employees to violate confidentiality agreements and disclosing that information online without Apple’s permission.

Offering tipsters “complete anonymity,” the website contact page urges visitors to submit “news tips” and “insider information.”

According to the complaint, Apple employees sign confidentiality agreements in which they promise not to disclose information about product plans to anyone outside of the company.

“Defendants’ knowing misappropriation and disclosure of Apple’s trade secrets constitutes a violation of California law and has caused irreparable harm to Apple,” the lawsuit states.

But several experts said that Apple might have alternative motives for suing the site.

“Usually you would want to sue your enemies and not your friends,” said Gary Fine, a Northwestern professor of sociology and expert on rumors. “I can’t think of an instance in which a corporation would sue its own fans. I haven’t heard anything like this.”

Fine said that it was possible that Apple was suing Think Secret to generate publicity. The lawsuit came the week before Apple’s biannual exposition where it released its latest products.

“If [the lawsuit] gets everyone’s attention, that’s all for the good of the company. Maybe there is a quiet understanding that they’ll get media attention and [then] quietly drop the lawsuit,” Fine said.

Ciarelli denied speculation that his site collaborated with Apple to generate buzz.

“Apple’s leadership is not feeding me information,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Roger M. Milgrim, a New York intellectual property attorney and the author of Milgrim on Trade Secrets, said that Apple might be trying to scare off other sites from copying Think Secret’s tactics.

“They figure that if they place financial pressures on this fellow, they’ll stop others from doing this same,” said Milgrim, who was unfamiliar with the case. “A preliminary injunction issued by a California court is useless against a Massachusetts or New York resident. But they seek damages and this young man will have to appear and he will have to hire a lawyer.”

Milgrim and Harvard Law Professor Lloyd L. Weinreb, when told by a Crimson reporter about the case, said Ciarelli might have a difficult time defending his actions.

“If that student is inviting people to give him information that was violating a trade secret he might be liable as a contributory infringer,” Weinreb said. An infringer violates the law directly, but a contributory infringer knows about the infringement and facilitates it in some way.

Milgrim agreed, saying that even if Ciarelli had not solicited trade secrets but had simply posted them, he might still be liable under California law.

“California is one of approximately 44 or 45 states that have adopted [the] Uniform Trade Secrets Act. That statute makes it wrongful to acquire or publish without authorization information you know or have a reasonable basis to know is a trade secret of another,” Milgrim said.

“Just because you receive something on the internet does not mean you have a green light to do whatever you want with it,” Milgrim added.

He explained the type of damages that could have motivated Apple’s lawsuit. “Sometimes in the software field where advances are measured in nanoseconds, the preannouncement will permit competitors to develop products more timely,” Milgrim said.

In its complaint, Apple demands that Ciarelli and his company pay damages, hand over “gains, profits, and advantages” from the alleged “misappropriation” of trade secrets and attend a trial by jury. According to the complaint, Think Secret generates revenue from online advertising.

Apple also requested an injunction to stop Think Secret from spreading future product information.

In the past, Apple has sent at least four cease and desist letters to Think Secret to stop the site from posting Apple trade secrets. Apple is also suing the unidentified individuals who tipped off Think Secret and has urged Ciarelli to reveal their identities.

But Ciarelli wrote that he will not disclose information about his sources.

“In my view, it is crucial that a reporter have the ability to maintain the confidentiality of his or her sources. And I think the public realizes this, since the news has been filled lately with instances of journalists being forced to reveal confidential sources,” Ciarelli wrote.

According to California Superior Court records, a case management conference will be held on May 3.


Go back to original article.
Copyright © 2004, The Harvard Crimson Inc. All rights reserved.
 
scratt
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2005-01-12, 12:22

Personally I am on Apple's side on this one.. I know I am going to be unpopular for this, but I take their point in the Law Suit.

But I sure do like checking the goss. out at Think Secret.

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El Guardo
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2005-01-13, 01:32

I too can appreciate Apple's position in this matter. And while I suspected that Thinksecret would be legally safe, "contributory infringment" does not look good....
 
usurp
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2005-01-13, 01:53

I think Apple sucks because of this. I think ThinkSecret did nothing wrong. Let Apple fire the employees who leaked but you cant sue ThinkSecret.
 
datapusher
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2005-01-13, 02:07

lol, come on. apple is trying to get the names of the sources from nick and obviously he isn't giving them up, so apple has to go ahead and sue.
 
scratt
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2005-01-13, 02:25

Quote:
Originally Posted by usurp
I think Apple sucks because of this. I think ThinkSecret did nothing wrong. Let Apple fire the employees who leaked but you cant sue ThinkSecret.
So let me think...

If you had a great idea... A world changing idea, and you couldn't make that thing by yourself, so you hired people to help you make that thing...

You really don't want people to copy your idea and bring it to market before you do and sell loads 'cos otherwise all that money your borrowed from your Mum would have to be paid back, or she'd have to go on the streets... 'cos you'd not have any way of paying the debt...

You made your friends who you were paying to work on this idea (using the money you borrowed from your Mum) promise to keep your idea a secret...

Then you found out that Johnny from next door was offering your friends sweets and money to share your idea with them..

You don't know which friend took the money, if it was all, or just some and you are up to your eyes in debt.. Your Mum's a bit worried.

All your friends are shitting themselves 'cos you will kill them for betraying you so they arn't gonna fess up...

What would you do...

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Icarusty
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2005-01-13, 02:41

Yes, but in ThinkSecret's case (both with the music device (iPod) and with the recent new products) the announcements were just a week or two before it was actually released for all to see. Now, it's practically impossible for a company, no matter how rich, to take ideas, features, design etc. of leaked technology/products, improve on them and finalize the design, and then mass manufacture and market it in two weeks... so really, bit of a null argument you put across there, as the damage dealt really is miniscule.

Hi to everyone on the forums by the way.
 
iRobot
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2005-01-13, 02:56

The other major difference is that in your analogy sweets are being offered in return for the idea.


Now.. I'm fairly confident that Thinksecret has not offered anything to its sources. It simply links to an anonymous mailer system so that anyone at all can send them news tips.



That is certainly not illegal.

Is anyone else as shocked as I am that this handle wasn't taken?!

Come on, people! iRobot?!
 
scratt
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2005-01-13, 03:04

Firstly, I think it is pretty obvious to assume that Ciarelli knows the people he is getting the information from... I don't think the accuracy of the information is from anonymous mailings, to be perfectly frank. So this begs the question what are these people getting for putting their jobs on the line!??!

The joy of seeing rumours on a third rate site?

I don't think so.

Secondly, while I take your point that he may not be offering incentives, the fact remains that he is profitting from illegally obtaining information via his online advertising.

His site serves no useful purpose apart from titillation for fans and may have affected release shcedules for products.. Asteroid, for example.

Apple is in the right legally, and I would say morally to ask people to stop encouraging employees to break the law and to stop stealing from it.

But, hey, maybe I am just old fashioned that way.

'Remember, measure life by the moments that take your breath away, not by how many breaths you take'
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scratt
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2005-01-13, 03:07

Quote:
Originally Posted by Icarusty
Yes, but in ThinkSecret's case (both with the music device (iPod) and with the recent new products) the announcements were just a week or two before it was actually released ...
Your honour it was only a small bag of crack.

Your honour she was 80 years old already when I ran her over, she probably wouldn't have lived much longer...

Your honour it was only a $1 I pick-pocketed him for...

Your honour I didn't mean any harm....

Your honour.....

etc.

'Remember, measure life by the moments that take your breath away, not by how many breaths you take'
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Icarusty
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2005-01-13, 03:37

With the exception of the last point, those all have clear boundaries that are crossed. With this, it's just information; and more to the point, time sensitive info. One week after the allegedly illegal announcement of the new items, we get the official one. Now tell me what tangible damage has been done, worthy of a lawsuit.
 
scratt
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2005-01-13, 03:47

You need to understand the law, and also actually develope some ideas of your own and then perhaps have them stolen.

Physical theft and theft of ideas, or theft of information is still theft.

Encouraging people to break the law is also a crime.

There are the legal arguments.

Apple don't want their information leaked, and there is the crux.. It is their proprietory information right up to the point they choose to make it public.

That to my mind is worthy of a law suit. It is certainly what the courts think too, otherwise they would have thrown the case out. AND THEY HAVEN'T.

Now if I listenend in on your phone calls (from the next room - nothing illegal there) and then (from stuff I heard in the convo.) told your boss you were planning to go work for another firm, and that lost you your job (assuming you have one). What would you do?

I mean your boss had a long term plan for you... but you only wanted to be there another three weeks to pay the bills... but because he now knows you are leaving anyway, he lets you go, screws your plans, and hires someone else...

Would you be happy about that...

You can try to brush my argument away... But all I have done is let information out of the bag a bit early.. No harm done, eh?

I think it would be possible to contrive some law-suit there also...
Would you be justified.. Who knows?

But I bet you'dd be pissed, and I bet if it did you some damage, you wouldn't compound it by making the reason public... Or perhaps I just had told stories on you one time too often and you wanted to nip it in the bud..

Either way you might investigate legal options to sue me, or even your boss, for using information which was going to be public anyway in a couple of weeks, and hey is just information anyway...

'Remember, measure life by the moments that take your breath away, not by how many breaths you take'
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cambridgebrian
 
 
2005-01-13, 03:54

lcarusty, I think scratt's point was that it doesn't matter if any tangible damage has actually been done. It's the principle of the thing.

Stealing $1 from someone's pocket hardly does any real damage, but it is just as morally wrong, and criminally punishable, as stealing $500.
 
Icarusty
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2005-01-13, 04:09

Yeah, I agree with that; in principle it is wrong, and as Apple I would be damn annoyed that the news got out. But because there really wasn't any lasting damage dealt, I think Apple's decision to file a lawsuit was much an overreaction.

Much better to find out how and who leaked the info in the first place, and how to prevent it in the future, seeing as, in this case, the "major blow" has already been made (i.e. the premature revealing of the mac and shuffle). Hence filing a lawsuit wouldn't achieve much; more likely to damage its reputation with its fans more than anything else.
 
usurp
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2005-01-13, 05:03

so if i am standing at a bus stop, and someone comes and starts talking to me and tells me that Apple is coming out with the G6 in february and then walks away. I go and tell my friends that btw someone came to me and told me the G6 is comiing out in february... Apple now has the right to sue me?

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scratt
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2005-01-13, 05:11

Quote:
Originally Posted by usurp
so if i am standing at a bus stop, and someone comes and starts talking to me and tells me that Apple is coming out with the G6 in february and then walks away. I go and tell my friends that btw someone came to me and told me the G6 is comiing out in february... Apple now has the right to sue me?
Depends whether you were wearing a big dumb ass T-shirt saying... Please tell me all Apple's secrets in confidence... and if you had an advert for some crappy smilies web site on the back of your shirt that you were getting paid for wearing too..

Come on... You can do better than that!

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SilentEchoes
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2005-01-13, 05:35

Not only that if Apple does not punish those who leaked the rumors this time, You think they are going to just NOT do it next time? Get real.

If they just slapped them on the wrist they would be right back at it just like all of the bittorrent sites and countless other examples.

You think Nick is going to want to get back on there and tempt Apple another time? Maybe, but thats a whole lot less likely now.

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Eugene
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2005-01-13, 05:43

Quote:
Originally Posted by scratt
So let me think...

If you had a great idea... A world changing idea, and you couldn't make that thing by yourself, so you hired people to help you make that thing...
You learn how to file a patent. It's not hard and you don't even have to make the thing, only describe it. That will protect you for what, 15 years? That's long enough for most IP holders to have their cake before it goes stale or is emulated in a non-patent infringing way.
 
scratt
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2005-01-13, 05:55

Yeah right... And in the real world..

I suggest you look up Patent law..

But a small lesson for you...

1) File the patent in a way that so well describes your idea that no-one else can plagiarize it and get away with it.

2) Filing a patent in the US alone will not protect you worldwide and the cost of adding regions to a Patent is as simple as adding a 0 to the end of the cost of filing eahc time.

3) Have enough money to actually defend that Patent should it be infringed...

4) Be willing to lose all that money and have your idea copied in many many countries which you simply cannot touch... Thailand, springs to mind...

and so on...

'Remember, measure life by the moments that take your breath away, not by how many breaths you take'
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ast3r3x
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2005-01-13, 06:29

Quote:
Originally Posted by cambridgebrian
lcarusty, I think scratt's point was that it doesn't matter if any tangible damage has actually been done. It's the principle of the thing.

Stealing $1 from someone's pocket hardly does any real damage, but it is just as morally wrong, and criminally punishable, as stealing $500.
I forget what, but I thought stealing under $20 is not as bad as stealing over it...legally of course, both are morally wrong.
 
scratt
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2005-01-13, 06:38

But then if you do it three times you are a lifer!
 
Barto
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2005-01-13, 06:45

Urg. Edit. I can't be bothered trying to wrap my mind around under-the-RDF incoherence in this thread.
 
thequicksilver
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2005-01-13, 08:41

Perhaps I'm the only one that didn't know, but…

Nick dePlume is 19??? And running TS since he was 13? Blimey.
 
TednDi
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2005-01-13, 09:25

...and that is why apple couldn't touch him.... till now. Now, he is an adult and can be sued.
 
LoCash
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2005-01-13, 10:13

Quote:
Originally Posted by TednDi
...and that is why apple couldn't touch him.... till now. Now, he is an adult and can be sued.
No, before they could have gone after his parents since they are his legal guardians and therefore held responsible.
 
alcimedes
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2005-01-13, 10:14

Quote:
Your honour it was only a small bag of crack.

Your honour she was.....
i'm having a hard time figuring out where you stand on this exactly.

Quote:
I never toss shit out of my window either... just cigarette butts. And for the record mine are Golden Virginia rollies with no filter and are 100% bio-degradable.

There is more shit coming out of your exhaust than any cigarette leaves behind on the floor. If you have a problem with some tobacco and paper on the ground then you should get rid of your car and set a real example instead of bitching and moaning and picking on a trendy subject for whiners to bash these days.
 
scratt
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2005-01-13, 11:44

er, What?

Can you explain the relevance of the two quotes... Because they are totally unrelated and one is sarcastic!?!?!??!

EDIT: Oh sorry! I just noticed the smilie!!

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usurp
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2005-01-13, 13:58

if nick cant rely on us to stand with him who can he rely on. Nick is a fan like us. he is not dealing with child porn, warez, or any other type of trash. all he is doing is posting "rumors". Apple should leave him alone. I dont understand how Nick could have so many enemies within the mac community. Who here hasnt checked thinksecret before a mac event? we all do as a teaser to see what might come or might not come. i am gonna go now and make "Leave Nick Alone" tshirts and sell them using cafepress

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oldmacfan
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2005-01-13, 14:49

Well, I do not pretend to know all the facts, but maybe some of those rich analysts that read his site will pop for his legal defense. They need Nick and his sort so they can play Apple's stock better.

Mile 1
 
morningstarrising
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2005-01-13, 14:58

You know no company out there(well besides Disney and Microsoft) really sues anyone for no good reason.

Apple must have a really good reason to do so, but we won't ever know if they settle, or if this doesn't go to court. this isn't about the rumors, if it was, they would done so last year..Apple must have new info that goes beyond "cute, innocence" rumors...
 
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