‘Think Secret,’ Apple Settle On 2005 Leak Case

Apple, Inc. settled a lawsuit out of court on Dec. 20 against Nicholas M. Ciarelli ’08 over leaks about its product plans on Ciarelli’s Web site, “Think Secret.”

The lawsuit ended a drawn-out effort by Apple to better control its product launches by targeting sites that published product information prior to official releases, as Think Secret has done on numerous occasions.

“We’re settling because we’ve been able to reach an agreement that results in a positive solution for both sides,” said Ciarelli, who is also a Crimson news executive.

As part of the settlement, no sources were revealed, and Ciarelli agreed to shut down Think Secret.

“We are pleased to have reached this amicable settlement and happy to have this behind us,” an Apple spokesperson said.

Ciarelli said he started the Web site in 1998—at the age of 13—in part out of excitement with creating a Web site for the first time.

“The other factor,” Ciarelli said, “was that I had been and continue to be an enthusiast of Apple products, and creating the site seemed like it would be a fun way to take that to the next level.”

Ciarelli noted that he started the Web site as a hobby, but over time, the site grew into something more serious. Apple filed the lawsuit against Think Secret in January 2005, when Ciarelli was a college freshman.

The company also filed subpoenas in December 2004 against Web sites AppleInsider and O’Grady’s PowerPage.

Think Secret responded with what is called an Anti-SLAPP motion. It asserted that Apple’s case was a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) and therefore not meritorious. The anti-SLAPP motion, if successful, would have thrown Apple’s lawsuit out of court.

“[Although] the court never ruled on that motion, I think that if the case had gone to court, Think Secret would have won,” said Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Opsahl defended AppleInsider and O’Grady’s PowerPage against the Apple subpoenas.

Some internet rights advocates have expressed disappointment with the settlement, but Ciarelli was upbeat.

“I think if you look at how Think Secret defended the lawsuit when it was filed,” Ciarelli said, “that reflects very positively on the ability of online journalists to assert their First Amendment rights.”

And Opsahl said that the settlement did not mean Ciarelli’s case against Apple was weak.

“Understand that the vast majority of cases settle,” Opsahl said. “It’s extraordinarily rare for a case not to settle. Even if you think that you have a good chance of succeeding and that your case is meritorious, it may still be useful to settle in order to save time and money.”

Ciarelli said he doesn’t have any future career plans set in stone. “It’s something that’s very much on my mind,” he said. “It may be something in journalism, which remains a very strong interest. It may be a new startup.”

And despite the lawsuit, when asked whether he still likes Apple products, Ciarelli responded, “Absolutely. I’m calling from my iPhone right now.”

—Staff writer Prateek Kumar can be reached at kumar@fas.harvard.edu.