Are your sources legit? 2005-03-12

(Update: has posted this article which summarises reactions to the ruling)

Dan Gillmor on Grassroots Journalism, Etc.: Apple's "Trade Secrets" is an interesting comment on the judgement Friday that three bloggers that wrote about Apple trade secrets may have to divulge their sources.

The key issues seems to be whether or not these bloggers could have gotten their information from someone who had legal rights to release the information.

While I understand Dan's concern - if it stands this judgement may very well have repercussions for journalists access to information - I also see why the judge is going in this direction.

Otherwise people who wants to destroy trademarks can do so only by leaking the information to a journalist, safe in the knowledge that the journalist can publish without repercussions, and the sources name won't need to be handed over.

The key here is how you know whether or not sources have a legitimate reason for getting the story out, and how you ensure legitimate sources are protected while gratuitous use of source protection to destroy a company's trade secrets can be prevented.

I share Dan's concern that companies might try to claim trade secret protection for just about everything. However what is important is that trade secret protection can't be successfully defended if the information is already public, or if the information is available from a source who legitimately does not have any restrictions on releasing it.

That means that you're mainly in trouble if you report on fact that has been handed you from an employee or partner who've signed an NDA, and who has been clearly breaking the law in handing you the information in the first place - If I started handing out information from my employeer it would have been a blatant violation of my employment terms.

While there are times when such sources SHOULD be protected, such as when whistleblowing on illegal actions by the company, journalists also needs to take some responsibility in their use of sources and ensure that they for instance don't end up as pawns in a game to cause damage for no good reason.

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