Andrew MacNeill follows up on my . … “Either way, stolen property that provides a story spells bad news for anyone- journalist or not.”
If you have an apple and I take it, I have an apple and you don’t. You have been robbed of property. If you have an idea and I learn of it, then we both have an idea. You have not been robbed of your idea. Ideas should not be property to be protected by law from others. The practical, physical implementation of an idea – an invention – can be patented for a decade or two. An expression of an idea in writing – code or literature – can be copywritten for the (obscenely long, imho) period of seventy-five years or more. But an idea that you will do something or say something sometime is not an invention. It is not a copywritable expresssion. It may be a trade secret: some sort of confidential information that you can bind your employees and vendors under contract to keep confidential. Some secrets – the formula to Coke is often cited – are closely guarded for good reason. Other secrets – like a software project code name – is handed out like candy to try to get a buzz going about vaporware.
Rumor columnists occupy a funny niche. They don’t investigate as much as gather, they rarely verify. Calling them a journalist is a stretch at best. However, they do not steal. They don’t break into office buildings and crack safes and steal documents stamped SECRET. They answer the phone, they get email. Someone faxes them a tidbit or two.
Some of the people who send them rumors are making them up, lying about a new thing for the prestige or to start a buzz for their competing product or to quash a competitor. Some work for the company and are doing their jobs and some are undermining their employer. Some are probably violating the contracts they had with their companies, some with their supervisor’s approval and some with their oblivion.
The rumor monger hasn’t signed an NDA with Apple. They know enough to publish a rumor that the next iPod will be purple (remember, folks, you heard it here first!) and enough sense not to publish a secret schematic. These people aren’t competing for a Pulitzer. Most are likely low-paid flunkies at the magazines. (Just who is Buzz Hunter at Advisor, anyway? 🙂 But they’re just doing their jobs. They are not fencing stolen property, they are printing rumors.
Apple should not be able to waste court time and threaten rumormongers with bankrupcy through court procedings for publishing information they had no way of determining was or was not protected by some legal entanglement. Let Apple secure their leaky house themselves, not in the courts.