Thursday, January 06, 2005

Well, call me hick, and sue me

This seems remarkably heavy-handed on Apple's part: SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple Computer has sued a popular Macintosh rumour Web site for allegedly distributing trade secrets, the latest in a string of lawsuits the company has filed to stop Internet leaks of details of upcoming products. [...] Apple claimed that the information posted on Think Secret in November and December of this year, and earlier, could only have been obtained by someone who had signed a confidentiality agreement with Apple. "Apple had maintained and protected the Future Product Information contained in these two articles as trade secrets, and the information could not have been acquired by the dePlume Defendants without a breach of an Apple confidentiality agreement," Apple said in its lawsuit. Apple is suing Nick dePlume, who owns and runs Think Secret, and 20 other unnamed individuals, some of whom Apple believes gave the unreleased product information to the Web site. The company also said that it believes dePlume is an assumed name, and that it will amend its complaint with dePlume's real name and the names of the other defendants, once they were determined. "Apple's DNA is innovation, and the protection of our trade secrets is crucial to our success," the Cupertino, California-based company said in a statement. Apple also said that its efforts to squelch the publication of as-yet-unannounced products was not an attempt to stifle free speech. "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," the company said in its complaint. Since about two years ago, I've decided the next new computer I buy will be a Mac. I can't afford a dual G5 with Cinema Monitor for the time being, however, so I was looking forward to the purported headless system, as a possible means of more immediately sating my interest in an ever-so-much-prettier (and greatly more functional-seeming) OS. This kind of thing won't make me boycott Apple, but it certainly does leave a bad taste in my mouth. Rumours will always circulate, and most always be wrong. It seems to me the best course of action would be to ignore them, and make the official announcements at the trade shows, as usual. What trade secrets have been divulged here? All I've seen in following the story are a vague system concept (buy the tower alone, use your existing cheap VGA monitor) and some hardware specs. Have I missed something? Have some genuinely secret manufacturing processes or physical design blueprints been leaked? Gizmodo reports today that iPod minis ordered as 4GB models have been shipped as 5GB, in an apparent stealth rollout of the soon-to-be-announced new size; is that a trade secret too? It hasn't been officially announced yet, after all. I'm sure Apple is within their rights based on the terms of their NDAs to launch this kind of suit. I can't help wondering, though, if they've really thought the consequences through. This is bound to generate some degree of backlash; who doesn't like engaging in baseless wish-fulfillment rumourmongering? Now there's a new element added to the game, however - get the details sufficiently correct, and Apple will admit as such by suing you, in a bizarre show of contempt for the most fanatical of customers. If that's sound business strategy for either the company's loyal core market, or the emerging casual users turned on to Apple by the iPod, I'm not seeing it. (Via Drudge.) UPDATE: More here.

29 Comments:

Blogger Brian Tiemann said...

Actually this isn't really an unusual thing, for Apple. They've sued over leaks before. And frankly, this is the kind of thing everyone pretty much expects them to pursue diligently.

More so than any other tech company (probably), Apple trades in secrecy. It's become part of their very trade dress, in fact: they refuse point-blank to ever engage in speculative talk about upcoming products, so much so that interviewers have pretty much stopped asking. When there's a leak, it's far more damaging to Apple's business than, say, word getting out about the next movie Disney is working on or the next car Saturn will release: those companies are in industries where speculation and futures-trading is commonplace, and rumors are hard to keep quashed. But Apple's stock in trade is the showmanship that comes with the keynote product unveilings, and Steve is as disappointed in people finding out in advance what he'd wanted to surprise them with as a parent would be to find that the kids had snuck under the bed and found the Christmas presents hidden there.

The Mac community is just ever-so-quirky that way: we generally like to see a surprise unveiled with all the fanfare in a keynote, something that catches us all off-guard like a movie that defies all the trailers. And yet we can't help ourselves when a rumor becomes apparent: we've just got to know, if the knowledge is to be had. On one side we live for the showmanship, and on the other we can't wait for the surprise; we cover our eyes, but we peek through our fingers.

For that reason, Mac users don't blame Apple for aggressively pursuing leaks and leakers, whether of the mini-Mac story or of Tiger screenshots. When ATI leaked news a few years ago that it had secured the deal to provide Apple's video cards for the next upcoming models, Steve flew into a rage and cancelled the contract and gave it to NVidia. When the G5 was announced, the Apple Store website showed the G5's specs the day before the keynote and was on t-shirts by the time he actually showed off the box; the entire Web staff was sacked within the week and six new job openings were posted. Do Mac users resent that? Nah, we see it as part of the spectacle.

It really is different over here. And yet no one can be told what the Mactrix is; you have to see it for yourself. ;)

1/06/2005 06:16:00 PM  
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