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Harvard student finds lawyer to defend Apple suit

The 19-year-old publisher of Mac rumor site Think Secret says he has found a lawyer to "help defend these crucial freedoms."

The publisher of Think Secret said Wednesday that he has found a lawyer to defend the Mac rumor site against a recent lawsuit by Apple Computer.

Harvard undergraduate student Nicholas Ciarelli, who goes by the pseudonym Nick dePlume, said in an article on the site that he is being represented free of charge by Terry Gross, a lawyer who once represented the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an agency that is backing two other Macintosh sites that are in Apple's legal crosshairs.

Earlier this month, Apple sued Think Secret as well as "Nick dePlume" and other unnamed individuals that it claims posted information about various unreleased products. The identity of dePlume was confirmed when the 19-year-old in an interview with the Harvard Crimson.

Ciarelli had been looking for legal help, saying he wasn't sure how he could defend himself. He said Wednesday that the Electronic Frontier Foundation helped link him with Gross, who is a partner at San Francisco-based Gross & Belsky.

Still using the dePlume name, the Harvard undergraduate student said he was glad to secure representation in the suit, which seeks unspecified damages.

"Apple's attempt to silence a small publication's news reporting presents a troubling affront to the protections of the First Amendment," dePlume said in a posting on Think Secret. "I'm grateful that Mr. Gross has stepped forward to help defend these crucial freedoms."

Think Secret and dePlume were sued over a number of articles, including several that predicted products that Apple in fact did introduce at last week's Macworld Expo. Among the products that the site forecasted were Apple's iWork office software, an update to iLife and a sub-$500 Mac.

Lawyers have said the case represents an interesting battle between the rights of companies to protect trade secrets and the rights of news organizations to gather information.

In a statement, Gross said Think Secret's articles should be protected by both the First Amendment and California law.

"Think Secret's reporting is protected by the First Amendment," said Gross, a former IBM systems programmer who also was part of the defense team of Leona Helmsley. "The Supreme Court has said that a journalist cannot be held liable for publishing information that the journalist obtained lawfully. Think Secret has not used any improper newsgathering techniques."

An Apple representative declined to comment beyond the company's original statement justifying its suit. Apple has maintained that it is protecting its business interests and not trying to impinge on free-speech rights.

"By this action, Apple does not seek to discourage communication protected by the free-speech guarantees of the United States and California constitutions," Apple said in its suit. "These constitutionally protected freedoms, however, do not extend to defendants' unlawful practice of misappropriating and disseminating trade secrets acquired through the deliberate violation of known duties of confidentiality."

Gross plans to ask a court to toss out Apple's lawsuit, arguing that what Think Secret published cannot be considered trade secrets, he said in an interview with CNET

"He didn't publish source code," Gross said of the articles in question. "They are clearly written as speculation."

He also questioned whether Apple had been harmed by the articles. "These came out just days before the release of the product," Gross said. "Where is there any damage?"