Friday, January 07, 2005

Your apple pie don't taste too nice

Perhaps I should clarify my thoughts on Apple's case against Think Secret. I was actually aware, if only in passing historical memory, of the screw-ups regarding ATI and the Apple web staff. I can't argue with Apple's reactions to either. This, I can. Unless it can be proven that Nick DePlume explicitly incited those signing NDAs to break them, is shooting the messenger productive? Like any quasi-journalist dealing largely in rumour, DePlume no doubt gets anonymous tips. Does he have a solemn duty not to publicize it? If he hasn't signed an NDA, I don't see that he's ethically in the wrong. I'm also still not convinced there's a valid claim anything in this represents a trade secret. It's a compilation of previous statements, conjecture, and "expected" hardware specs, which could be extrapolated from the anticipated market sector and the needs of the target consumers. To focus on the publicizer rather than the legitimate injury done is to miss the point entirely. Apple has an airtight case against the leakers, who, having broken their side of a contract, are clearly in the wrong. Think Secret isn't, except possibly on a difficult-to-argue technicality. I'm not terribly worried about torrents of bad PR arising from this for Apple; I am aware the hammer's been dropped, and hard, before. But as a potential new customer drawn to the Mac via the iPod - theoretically one of the two new markets they're gunning for with the now all-but-certain new system - heavy-handed attitudes towards something that seems (again, to me, as a casual observer only semi-familiar with the running narrative of Apple vs. The Corporate Empire-Destroying Scourge of Rumours) not terribly harmful does tend to sap the goodwill I have for the company.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Protections of intellectual property place an active duty upon the owner. If you're aware of a violation, and choose to do nothing, courts can and have in the past viewed this as an acceptance and waiver of the violation, disallowing action to be taken at a later date. It doesn't matter if there are journalistic protections in place or if the legal threats they make won't hold up at all: they have to be made and the company has to make a show of making them, or they can get screwed over by it later. They cannot through action or inaction indicate the slightest tolerance for the behavior.

The same is largely true from a business perspective. Shareholders don't care about anonymity, or the ethics of journalism. If there's a leak, they're going to lose confidence. If the company doesn't make a show of being tough about the situation, shareholders are going to lose even more confidence.

As to focusing on the publicizer, in civil cases you get your pick of the jackasses hurting you. You go after the deeper pocket and you go after the more publicly visible entity, again because it more visibly demonstrates your intolerance of the harm being done. In this case it can also serve to prevent future problems; by scaring the publishers it becomes harder for people who like to leak things to actually get that information out.

As to whether or not the information is a trade secret, I can't really say. What I would suggest though is that as a niche market, Apple doesn't just sell computers; they sell innovation. Yes, every successful company offers the promise of improvement, and new ideas, but in Apple's case this trend is a stronger, more prominent part of their marketing and their brand. When you take previous statements, rumors, conjecture and "expected" hardware specs, and try to pass them off as fact, that has a negative impact on the hype that the company is selling.

1/08/2005 02:13:00 AM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

In the late 80's apple decided to require every one who had a Mac to upgrade. In order to facilitate this goal they recalled all of the upgrade kit that were on the market. Because of that and other actions, they almost went out of business. Since that time I've become proponent of the PC. They really shouldn't screw with their market share.

1/10/2005 01:06:00 AM  

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