Apple’s Legal Team Has Misplaced Priorities: Ivy League Teenagers Are Fair Game, Influential Global Liars Are Not

Illustration for article titled Apple’s Legal Team Has Misplaced Priorities: Ivy League Teenagers Are Fair Game, Influential Global Liars Are Not

Apple's legal team has misplaced priorities.

Apple's infamous litigiousness elicits umbrage or admiration depending on the bystander, but all would concede its effectiveness. Throughout the years, Apple has beaten critics in the courts, quashed rumors with legal complaints, and fostered a culture of secrecy that enables a sensational, spectacular product buzz unmatched in industry. The casual observer might wonder how Apple attorneys are kept at such a heightened, frenzy-at-the-ready, state of legal vigilance around the clock, around the globe, throughout the year.


Which makes Apple's timidity in the face of an actual, honest-to-goodness, pervasive, ongoing, global, media-saturating threat to their core business, brand image, and consumer goodwill… baffling.

To pick just two examples of the distance, beyond any remote semblance of common sense, to which Apple's legal department will go, consider Nicholas Ciarelli and Jason Chen.

Ciarelli, who'd started a fan site about all things Apple when he was just thirteen years old, announced, in January 2005 the imminent launch of the Mac mini on his blog. This was two weeks before it was to be officially launched at an Apple event. Apple sued. Then just eighteen and a freshman at Harvard, Ciarelli fought an unlikely three-year battle against Apple before caving in to the inevitable and agreeing to shut down his site in a confidential legal settlement with Apple.

In 2010, Jason Chen, editor of an extremely popular gadget blog, acquired an iPhone prototype that an Apple employee had left at a bar(!) Apple "pressed local police to investigate", which led to police – uniformed, with guns – raiding Chen's home and seizing his computers. Quite an unwelcome development for somebody who writes about technology for a living. An eighteen-month-long legal tussle ended with the San Mateo Distrcit Attorney stating "that there was not enough evidence to indict Chen or anyone else affiliated with Gizmodo" according to the CNET round-up.

I'm left a bit cold by this level of aggressiveness in legal departments - it's not what I'd choose to do with critics, or especially, fans, as in these cases - but I'm not in a hits-driven gadget business. So as a business matter, I'm not qualified to pass judgment – it's up to Apple to decide the correct level of aggressiveness for their business. And as a consumer, it's had zero impact on my ever-increasing acquisition of Apple products over the past five years.

What I do find remarkable are the choices that Apple's legal department has made. Once you determine that you'd like to puruse a very aggressive legal stance towards the world, friend and foe alike, and you engender a public, worldwide, unstinting reputation for aggressiveness with a strategy that costs you high dollars, a certain negativity of reputation, and other illnesses that go along with pugnaciousness, how do you nail Ciarelli and Chen while neglecting Daisey?


That is, how does your legal strategy simultaneously countenance:

The persecution of an Ivy League teenager and a gadgets-guys' gadgets guy, who love your products so much that they spend their entire working lives breathlessly revealing your every move to audiences both interested and uninterested, thereby tacitly supporting, upholding, and validating the entire semi-mystical hold your firm has on the otherwise rational minds of many of the nation's technologists, all of which allows your firm to become the most valuable company on Earth…


AND, simultaneously…

Standing by mutely, while allowing a persuasive, accomplished, conniving performer and conman, who successfully uses the world's most-renowned newspaper and America's public radio network to slander your firm in one of the most effective anti-corporate PR campaigns since Ida Tarbell, thereby calling into question that same semi-mystical hold you have on the populace in the minds of millions of actual normal people (who, in contrast to the fanboys above, his message actually reaches) and which story, it turns out, can be unraveled by a journalist's Googling "cathy shenzen translator" while fact-checking the stage performer's claims, thereby leading to his being discredited in a very public, humiliating way in a matter of hours!


I cant' square the two. Why crush your own fanboys while surrendering the global pulpit to a bully? Why squash people who love you and allow liars to prosper?

Your priorities, Apple, seem misplaced.

Republished with permission from Marc Cenedella.



Apple's secrecy is regarding product announcements. Ciarelli & Chen were undercutting that secrecy.

As I understand it (admittedly, I have not listened to it because I am not a fan of liars) Daisy was not announcing future Apple products - he was just making up a fictional story about how Apple does business and selling it as fact.

Now, you and I would be more concerned about slander than someone knowing the features of the next iPhone - but, in Cupertino they think different, apparently.