For years, tech publications large and small have hovered around Apple like fruit flies, constantly digging for scoops about the company's future products. Every once in a while, Apple swats one.
Digital Music News, which covers online music, yesterday yielded to a demand by Apple to remove a copy of a contract that iTunes Radio offered to small independent record labels, the site said in a blog post. Apple claimed that by posting a copy of the contract on its site, DMN violated Apple's copyrights.
"Apple is using copyright to try and suppress information." Copyright? For a contract?
Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, says that contracts can indeed be copyrighted, although it's rare. "It's not out of legal bounds to do this," Goldman told The Verge. "It's just kind of a jerk move. We all know what's happening here. Apple doesn't care about protecting the copyright of contracts. It's using copyright to try and suppress information that it doesn't want made public."
According to DMN's story, the site published the contract in June after acquiring it from unnamed source. Likely the contract's most significant aspect, according to DMN, was that it "forced sub-standard terms" on all but the largest and most influential indie labels — although the publication acknowledges that the labels offered little to no resistance to Apple's terms. Representatives from Apple and DMN did not respond to interview requests, so it's unclear why Apple appears to have waited more than three months to make its demand.
This isn't first time Apple has bulldozed smallish news site A small news service like DMN, which has just a couple of writers on staff, likely doesn't have the economic resources to defend a legal challenge from a gargantuan company like Apple. But bulldozing over smallish news sites hasn't appeared to make Apple squeamish in the past. In 2007,Think Secret, a blog that broke stories about Apple products, was forced to shut its doors after the company filed suit against Nicholas Ciarelli, who at the age of 13, founded the publication. In the most famous case of Apple v. The Media, the company went to the police to help recover a prototype iPhone lost by one of its engineers while he partied in a Bay area brew pub. As part of the search, the cops searched the home of a Gizmodo reporter. Gizmodo said at the time that it paid $5,000 to a man who claimed to have found the phone.
In the past, Apple has defended these actions by noting that the leaks are a serious threat. The company’s product launches are carefully orchestrated to ratchet up anticipation, and managers can't do that as easily if information leaks early. That may be, but it's worth noting that Apple doesn't often use these heavy-handed tactics when The New York Times or other prominent news organizations get scoops. In fact, in its most recent event for the iPhone 5S and 5C, marketing chief Phil Schiller even mentioned leaks on stage. "A few of you might have seen some shots [of the iPhone 5C] on the web," Schiller said. "And that's cool, because everyone is really excited about this."
What might happen to Sonny Dickson? All this raises questions about what might happen to Sonny Dickson should the Australian teen continue to break news about Apple's products. Dickson, who lives with his parents in Melbourne, is credited with publishing the first leaked photos of the iPhone 5S and 5C, which made their official debut last month. He has also leaked alleged images of Apple’s next iPads, widely expected to be announced as soon as this month.
As for Digital Music News, site operator Paul Resnikoff dinged Apple about its own infringing behavior, and no doubt will continue to criticize the company and other web distributors about the way they treat indie musicians.