A prominent Internet lawyer has agreed to defend 19-year old Think Secret publisher Nicholas Ciarelli against recent Apple legal action.

Former counsel to the Electronic Frontier Foundation Terry Gross of Gross and Belsky has agreed to defend the Mac rumour site. Apple is suing the site with regard to recent news reports that accurately predicted products Apple was then preparing to reveal at Macworld Expo San Francisco this month.

The notoriously secretive Apple is demanding an injunction against the site to prevent it publishing new stories about what it finds out, is demanding damages and also wants to force Think Secret to reveal its sources.

Apple's right to secrets

Apple senior vice president of worldwide product marketing Phil Schiller told the Associated Press: "Innovation is what Apple is all about, and we want to continue to innovate and surprise and delight people with great products, so we have a right to protect our innovation and secrecy."

The company believes that revealing news of its plans before the company itself is ready to unveil them reduces the interest the media shows in its products. However, it's clear that in this case Apple's decision to sue actually served to amplify publicity around Mac mini, iWork, and the iPod shuffle.

Apple claims its actions: "Do not seek to discourage communication protected by the free-speech guarantees of the United States".

The public's right to know

Think Secret disagrees, countering that: "Apple's attempt to silence a small publication's news reporting presents a troubling affront to the protections of the First Amendment."

Before the birth of the Internet Gross once successfully defended the constitutional rights of publishers to disseminate information they legally obtain, electronically or in print.

In a statement, Gross said: "Think Secret's reporting is protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has said that a journalist cannot be held liable for publishing information that the journalist obtained lawfully. Think Secret has not used any improper newsgathering techniques."

On behalf of the defendant, Gross intends filing a motion that asks the courts to dismiss the case, "on First Amendment grounds under a California statute which weeds out meritless claims that threaten First Amendment rights."

Apple's legal bulldozer

Earlier this week Ciarelli admitted himself to be looking for legal help, as he did not have the money to adequately defend himself against the suit. The Electronic Frontier Foundation helped link him with Gross.

Apple's legal team is already devising arguments to refine legalistic understanding of the meaning of First Amendment free speech provisions.

A statement from the company says: "These constitutionally protected freedoms, however, do not extend to defendants' unlawful practice of misappropriating and disseminating trade secrets acquired through the deliberate violation of known duties of confidentiality."

Wider significance on news reporting

The Electronic Frontier Foundation believes the cases may ultimately limit the rights of journalists, arguing that the anonymity of bloggers' sources should be protected by the same laws that protect sources providing information to journalists.

"Without legal protection, informants will refuse to talk to reporters, diminishing the power of the open press that is the cornerstone of a free society, the organization said this week.
Public feeling seems to favour the defendants. An online petition defending the rumour Web site has attracted 3,974 signatures so far.