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Good News for Citizen Journalists

CNET: Apple abandons effort to unmask leaker. The case, filed in the superior court of Santa Clara County, drew national attention not only because it involved unreleased products–but also because it was one of the first to set the rules of how the rights of uncredentialed online journalists should be balanced against the rights of trade secret holders. By not appealing its loss, though, Apple has set a legal precedent that could embolden other journalists (and perhaps other leakers) in the future.

This is extremely good news for the citizen journalists of the world, or at least California.

It’s too bad, in a way, that Apple didn’t take it to the state Supreme Court or even higher. (Steve Jobs publicly vowed he would do just that; like some of his other assertions over the years, this turned out to be, uh, inoperative.) A precedent from the highest court is always better than one from a lower court.

But this is still a valuable precedent, and one we should all celebrate. The appeals panel understood that protecting journalism, not journalists, is the point. We should all remember that.

(I’m proud to have filed declarations in these cases, at the request of attorneys for the defendant websites — no, I wasn’t paid to do so — saying that the sites in question were doing journalism and that they deserved the same kind of protection that traditional media organizations would have in such cases. The trial judge ducked the issue, but the appeals court looked at it squarely, and came down on the right side.)

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