Apple's actions against Mac rumour Web sites are sacrificing some of its key supporters.
A scathing report in The Guardian this morning says that, with its actions, Apple is effectively, "asking to be loathed and subverted".
The report points to the Cupertino computer maker's renowned secretiveness (it calls this "corporate paranoia"). Apple's instinct favours "opacity", it says, adding, "none of this sits comfortably with those achingly hip, design-conscious products."
Such criticism follows the decision by a Californian judge that supports Apple's attempt to force Apple Insider, PowerPage and Think Secret to reveal their sources. Sources (apparently numbered at 25 individuals), who have fed fillips of Apple's future plans to an excited audience of Mac users.
Trade secret decision evades the point
In a tactical judgement, the court declared these plans to be "trade secrets", as defining what a journalist is today has become "more complicated".
"Defining what is a 'journalist' has become more complicated as the variety of media has expanded. But even if Web-based writers are journalists, this is not the equivalent of a free pass."
A wave of protests has ensued as the US media asks if the two reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal would be liable for prosecution under this softly-softly new wave of corporate-friendly media law.
The Guardian asks: "Was Enron's off-balance sheet funding structure a "trade secret", for instance?" It also fears more such actions by rich US corporations attempting to silence their less well-heeled critics, forced to turn to the Web in order to enjoy a chance to air their views.
Apple "losing its shine"
The report captures the mood of many UK journalists. Speaking privately to Macworld, a Times reporter this week described Apple's actions as symptomatic of a company that is "losing its shine".
Speaking to Associated Press, Apple Insider editor Kasper Jade said: "Apple is using this case as a desperate attempt to silence the masses of bloggers and online journalists that it cannot control but feels it can intimidate."
He observed that such publications do not have large legal budgets, observing: "The company hopes that it can stop or chill the Apple-news industry with its threats."
Subversion of First Amendement
Apple is also attempting to seize records from the ISPs of the accused. Experts are concerned that if Apple succeeds in this it will serve to undermine the protection journalists can offer their sources in an increasingly electronic age.
Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation told SFGate: "We think it should send a chill across reporters of all stripes."
Speaking to Financialwire.net, one observer said: "Surely Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (the journalists who uncovered the Watergate scandal) are violating some sort of trade secret law somewhere that could overcome the protection of the First Amendment to the US Constitution."
Returning to the UK, The Scotsman's Stewart Kirkpatrick (a Mac user for fifteen years) made several pertinent observations: "In a fight between journalists and "the man" I'm damn sure I know which side I'm on", he says.
He asks: "What is a journalist? Is journalism defined by who one works for or what one does? If I left the honour, riches and glory of scotsman.com (ha!) to set up on my own would I suddenly cease to be a journalist? I don't think so. If you "do journalism", you're a journalist", he writes.
And adds that as a result of the judgement: "In California at least, Apple has destroyed journalism by undermining the most vital tool of our trade: the ability to receive information without having to shop the person who told you."