A Santa Clara County Court ordered Apple, Inc. to pay the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) over US$700,000 in legal fees associated with the defense of three popular Mac-oriented Web sites (PowerPage and Apple Insider) in response to reports published about an unreleased Firewire breakout box for GarageBand, code-named "Asteroid."
MacNN covered the award of legal fees to the EFF:
"We are very pleased, as this will go a long way towards keeping EFF on the forefront of impact litigation defending the rights of online journalists and others," EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl wrote in an email. "Bloggers break the news, just like journalists do. They must be able to promise confidentiality in order to maintain the free flow of information. Without legal protection, informants will refuse to talk to reporters, diminishing the power of the open press that is the cornerstone of a free society."
A timeline of the Asteroid legal case after the jump...
November 2003 - PowerPage and Apple Insider reported that Apple was developing a FireWire breakout box for GarageBand, code-named "Asteroid" and "Q97."
December 2004 - Apple filed suit in Santa Clara County Superior Court against 20 unnamed "John Does" who they suspected released the Asteroid information to the journalists, adding that they have been unable to determine the source of the leaks internally. Apple was granted the right to subpoena PowerPage, AppleInsider and Think Secret, forcing the sites to turn over all documents related to Asteroid.
March 2005 - Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James P. Kleinberg ruled that Apple could go ahead and obtain records from the email service provider (at the time) for PowerPage.
April 2006 - EFF appealed the ruling and a three-judge appeals court in San Jose heard the Asteroid case and peppered Apple with tough questions, "All you want...is the name of the snitch," judge Elia said. "That's what this case is about." The panel sought to answer the sticky legal question: Should online journalists receive the same rights as traditional reporters?
May 2006 - Apple suffered a major setback after California's Sixth District Court of Appeals overturned the lower court's decision ruling in favor of the EFF's appeal upholding the rights of online journalists to protect their confidential sources and putting them on par with traditional print journalists. In its ruling, the appeals court said that bloggers are no different in their protections than a reporter and editor for print publications.
Judge Conrad Rushing of the California Court of Appeal, Sixth Appellate District, who wrote the opinion, said: "We decline the implicit invitation to embroil ourselves in questions of what constitutes 'legitimate journalism.'" To do otherwise, Rushing warned, would imperil the very values the First Amendment was intended to protect.
Rushing and his two colleagues went even further, saying that the California reporter's shield law protects Web publishers--which appears to be the first decision that makes such status official. "Beyond casting aspersions on the legitimacy of petitioners' enterprise, Apple offers no cogent reason to conclude that they fall outside the shield law's protection," Rushing wrote.
July 2006 - Apple's deadline to appeal the case passed and Apple acknowledged in a court filing that it would not take its fight to the California Supreme Court.
November 2006 - The EFF filed a declaration in California Superior Court for the award of costs and attorney's fees associated with their defense of the case.
January 2007 - The Santa Clara County Court granted the EFF's motion for attorneys' fees, ordering Apple to pay over $700,000 to EFF and their co-counsel for the work done fighting Apple's subpoenas. The EFF received received the cost of their fees plus a multiplier of 2.2. Ten days later Apple sent the check to the EFF and declined the opportunity to appeal.
The case is monumental for independent journalists of all types and sets a precedent in the United States that bloggers are entitled to the same protections under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States as traditional journalists.