Apple’s Influence on Free Speech

by mcastellon on March 7, 2005

The internet is booming with discussion regarding Apple’s decision to sue three bloggers who published information pertaining to unreleased products. In case you missed it, here it is within the proverbial nutshell: an Apple employee leaked product information to several bloggers. The information hinted at the design and features of Apple’s then-unreleased Mac-Mini and new line of iPods. The bloggers published the information online, and have since refused to identify the Deepthroat who released said information.

The lawsuit raises questions about freedom of speech issues related to bloggers, who in the past year have exploded on the scene while serving as occasionally successful armchair journalists. Members of the Old World Press are allowed to protect the identities of their sources in most situations, but Apple contends that bloggers are not legitimate members of the press, and are thus not entitled to similar degrees of protection under freedom of speech laws.

Lisa DiCarlo brings up an interesting point about this battle:

This potential threat to first amendment rights and Apple’s crackdown on Web sites that, in general, love the company and its products, do nothing to bolster Apple’s image. In fact, the company’s success of late has yielded accusations of bullying and potentially unlawful business tactics, not to mention complaints that songs purchased from its iTunes music service, the dominant digital music store, don’t work with music players other than its own.

I would have preferred if DiCarlo addressed the issue that the title of her story hints at: Is Apple The New Microsoft? But she didn’t, so I will attempt to.

Apple has had a lot of success recently, first with iPod and iTunes, and now with Mac-Mini and several pretty impressive software packages that have had Apple enthusiasts lining up at the doors of the Apple Store. Apple is working on going mainstream, mainly in baiting PC users who have dabbled with iTunes and iPod enough to think they might like other Apple products. For years, the price of Apple products has kept a lot of users out of the ultra hip and sleek Mac realm, but now with the offering of a pretty decent $499 desktop and cheaper iPods, it seems that Apple may be making a move towards becoming more global.

It is bit ironic that a company that has always attempted (and usually succeeded) in practicing more user-friendly design, marketing and production than Microsoft is now engaging in high-profile swipes at its users. The lawsuit with bloggers is the tip of the iceberg. Apple is now facing litigation claiming that its iTunes music service is only accomodating to iPod music players.

Microsoft officials have typically claimed that its cut-throat business practices were not cut-throat at all, and have implied that such practice was necessary to protect the MS brand and technology. Now that Apple is experiencing record sales, the question will remain if the company will engage in less than admirable practice to protect it’s technology and brand.

I think Apple would be better off maintaining its relationship with core users while continuing to expand its product line in an effort to acquire some of the MS market share. I’ve been sold on several Apple products simply on the basis of blog discussions and amateur product reviews, and I’m not alone. This may not be the best time for Apple to get arrogant and bite the hands that have fed them for so long. The lines of communication between core users are changing rapidly, and Apple is now in a unique position to alter that communcation, for better or worse.

Bloggers who exposed rumors of upcoming products likely did little to hurt sales. The products in question include the iPod Shuffle and Mac-Mini, both of which are still on backorder with the Apple Store. Apple may be attempting only to hunt down the employee who leaked the info more than attempting to influence the free speech/blogger issue, but I hope Steve Jobs and Company don’t inadvertantly influence constitutional law in an effort to prevent leakages about possible upcoming iPod releases.

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