Macworld readers are slightly in favour of Apple's attempt to force Mac rumour sites to reveal their sources. In a recent poll 51 per cent have come out in support of Apple, but 42 per cent say that the company is wrong to act so.

Apple has also won the support of the judge in its case against Mac rumour sites that published what it is says are Trade Secrets, but the computer maker is due back in court following an appeal.

Mac Web sites PowerPage and Apple Insider argue that the judge's initial declaration violates the First Amendment. They say Apple is should first use every avenue it can internally to identify the leaks before it is allowed to pile legal pressure on journalists.

Many journalists across the world argue that allowing Apple to progress the case will damage the press, effectively making it impossible for the media to engage in investigative reporting. They also question the definition of trade secret, suggesting that it is open to abuse.

Public interest

Apple clearly feels that the information published should be defined as a Trade Secret, and it argues that the information could help competing firms react. Others argue that the rumour sites should not have published the information as it is not in the public interest – the only real defence a journalist has. And, in general, Macworld readers agree.

The online survey breaks down as follows. Of the 1,746 voters, 46 per cent say that "people shouldn't break non-disclosure agreements;" 24 per cent say that Apple's actions "curtails free speech;" 18 per cent say "Apple should be grateful for the publicity;" 5 per cent say "journalists shouldn't report rumours as fact;" and 7 per cent just "don't care".

Many of the writers on Macworld's forum clearly do care however. One is quite vocal in his discussion of whether the question of free speech can really be invoked in this case.

Speak freely

He writes: "The web sites involved seem to be invoking the American Constitution and its protection of freedom of speech. From what I understand, when this 'freedom' is applied to disclosure of confidential information by journalists, the deciding factor is whether publishing this information would be in the 'public interest'.

"Using this criteria, if a company's activities are potentially dangerous, and they attempt to hide this fact by tying employees and associates to non-disclosure agreements, then clearly discovering and publishing this information is in the public's interest, irrespective of any agreements the company may have invoked."

He continues: "If the information disclosed relates to a product that presents no danger or threat of any kind to the public, then I cannot see how a 'freedom of speech' defence can protect that disclosure, particularly if the company may suffer adversely from the disclosure."

Taking its share

Another reader points out the negative effects that can come about if shareholders act on the rumours. He writes: "What happens if Apple's share price goes down due to misinformed rumours? Who do the shareholders sue? After all, shareholders are interested in only two things, dividends and an increase in the share price. If Apple or any publicly quoted company gives out false information, shareholders have and will sue if they have lost money. Apple, has in my view, every right to sue the rumours sites."

But another notes that the analyst houses themselves are just as guilty of spreading rumour. "When the likes of Merrill Lynch state categorically that there will be a flash-based iPod six months in advance, no-one bats an eyelid. As for the share price issue, that's totally moot – people always buy on speculation and sell on reality, rumour sites or no rumour sites," he writes.

Keeping secrets

One reader believes that the real issue is the breaking of the NDA. He writes: "Breaking an NDA is illegal and undermines Apple's strategy in a very real way." Another agrees, saying: "If a site encourages people to break a non-disclosure agreement, then that is wrong and it does demonstrable harm to Apple."

However, another reader suggests that Apple should be the one ensuring its staff and partners do not disclose its secrets. He suggests: "I think that Apple should also use innovative ideas to maintain secrecy, such as a reward for team members if a project remains secret until it's announced, or even offer a bounty for information about leakers."