NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · CALIFORNIA · Confidentiality/Privilege · Feb. 14, 2007
Apple must pay for online journalists’ lawyers
Feb. 14, 2007 · Apple Computer has been ordered to pay more than $750,000 in attorney fees and court costs in a case that pitted the electronics giant against a group of online journalists who posted information about an unreleased Apple product on the Web.
Pursuant to the Jan. 11 order, Apple must pay $421,333 to attorneys with the privacy rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation and $328,981 to two other attorneys. Apple must also cover the journalists’ court costs, which totaled $2,813.
Because the court awarded what is known under California law as a “fee enhancement,” the sum awarded was 2.2 times the actual fees owed to the attorneys because of the risk they took in taking the case, the public interest in the outcome of the litigation, the complexity of the issues, the high quality of their work and the fact that the Electronic Frontier Foundation is a nonprofit organization.
Judge Kevin McKenney in San Jose, Calif., held that because of the lawyers’ work to enforce the online journalists’ rights, “a significant benefit has been conferred on all journalists, the free press, and on the general public as a whole.”
In December 2004, Apple sued 25 unknown individuals who Apple said may have leaked information about a then-unreleased Apple product. Details about the product appeared on several Apple-focused online magazines, including O’Grady’s PowerPage, Mac News Network and Apple Insider.
To determine the identity of the alleged leakers, Apple subpoenaed PowerPage owner Jason O’Grady, Mac News Network publisher Monish Bhatia, and Apple Insider publisher and editor Kasper Jade. Apple also subpoenaed Nfox.com, which hosted the journalists’ e-mail accounts, and Nfox.com owner Karl Kraft.
The journalists claimed protection under the California reporter’s shield law and the First Amendment. Although the trial court found in Apple’s favor on the grounds that the journalists disseminated trade secrets, the appeals court reversed and said the California shield law applied, regardless of the trade secret issue.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the journalists.
“The real victory here was the underlying case,” said Kurt Opsahl, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “We got a great decision from the California Court of Appeals. We’re certainly gratified that we were able to get the attorneys’ fees paid so we can keep doing this kind of work.”
(O’Grady v. Superior Court of Santa Clara County, Media Counsel: Kurt Opsahl and Kevin Bankston, Electronic Frontier Foundation, San Francisco) — ES