A dispute between Apple and a Web site that published information on how to modify the software in an iPhone has gone to court—with BluWiki.com and a digital rights group ally claiming their Web publications are protected speech.
BluWiki, which like other noncommercial “wiki” sites allows the public anonymously to post information meant to be educational, last year hosted a discussion on how to “jailbreak” an iPhone, thereby allowing iPhone users to play music using software such as Songbird instead of Apple’s iTunes program.
Apple demanded BluWiki take down the posts, claiming they infringed the company’s copyright and violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Fearing a lawsuit, Beaverton, Oregon-based OdioWorks LLC, which operates BluWiki, relented.
Engaging in ‘Censorship’
But the firm and the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation sued Apple in April, seeking federal permission to restore the discussion thread and asking for declaratory judgment decreeing the discussion in question did not violate any law.
“Apple’s legal threats against BluWiki are about censorship, not about protecting their legitimate copyright interests,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation Attorney Fred von Lohmann.
Sam Odio, owner of OdioWorks, thinks Apple Computer went too far in trying to shut down an online discussion.
“I take the free speech rights of BluWiki users seriously,” Odio said. “Companies like Apple should not be able to censor online discussions by making baseless legal threats against services like BluWiki that host the discussions.”
Stephen Pate, operator of the NJN Network, an online-based social advocacy network, thinks Apple has become overconfident with its recent success in the computer business.
“Big companies like Apple start with a good spirit, but soon take the mean attitude of winner-take-all,” Pate said. “BluWiki, a blog site that discussed using iPods with some other programs other than iTunes, was sued by Apple under the DMCA law. It’s one of the things we don’t like about Apple: They want a closed world where they control your life.”
Legally Protected Discussions
Von Lohmann notes it is legal to reverse engineer any product and more than legal to talk about it, online or in person.
“Wikis and other community sites are home to many vibrant discussions among hobbyists and tinkerers. It’s legal to engage in reverse engineering in order to create a competing product, it’s legal to talk about reverse engineering, and it’s legal for a public wiki to host those discussions,” von Lohmann said.
Apple did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.
Thomas Cheplick ([email protected]) writes from Cambridge, Massachusetts.