Apple Sues Student

Computer giant accuses undergraduate of publishing trade secrets

Apple Computer, Inc. is suing a Harvard undergraduate who runs a popular Mac information website for disclosing details about unreleased Apple products, including two unveiled at this week’s Macworld conference.

Nineteen-year-old Nicholas M. Ciarelli ’08, known on the internet as Nick dePlume, has run the site, thinksecret.com, since age 13.

Ciarelli’s site announced the arrival of the Mac mini—a $499 computer—and the iLife ’05 software package two weeks before they were introduced at the Apple expo yesterday.

But in a complaint filed in the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara last Tuesday, Apple alleges that Think Secret has not obtained its information legally.

Apple claims that Ciarelli and his company, The dePlume Organization, broke the law when soliciting insider tips online from anonymous sources, “inducing” Apple employees to break their confidentiality agreements with the company.

The suit does not identify Ciarelli by name, saying dePlume’s “true name and identity” could not be confirmed. But a Nov. 11 letter Apple sent to Think Secret ordering the site to stop publishing trade secrets included Ciarelli’s name as publisher and editor-in-chief of Think Secret.

Ciarelli, who is also a Crimson editor, confirmed in an e-mail yesterday that he owns and runs Think Secret.

He wrote in the e-mail that he has done nothing wrong.

“I employ the same legal newsgathering practices used by any other journalist,” he wrote. “I talk to sources of information, investigate tips, follow up on leads, and corroborate details. I believe these practices are reflected in Think Secret’s track record.”

The site, for example, broke the news that Apple would release a digital music player one week before Apple released its first iPod in 2001.

Apple representatives did not return calls seeking comment yesterday. Apple’s attorney, George A. Riley, also did not respond to several phone messages.

Ciarelli, a Wigglesworth resident who hails from New York, wrote that he has not yet hired an attorney.

“Neither the dePlume Organization nor I can afford to defend a suit against Apple, and have few connections in California,” he wrote.

THE CORE OF THE SUIT

Apple’s lawsuit alleges that Think Secret is illegally soliciting Apple employees to violate confidentiality agreements and disclosing that information online without Apple’s permission.

Offering tipsters “complete anonymity,” the website contact page urges visitors to submit “news tips” and “insider information.”