Notoriously secretive Apple Inc. has dropped legal threats against BluWiki, a Web site that hosted discussions about how to use computer software other than the company's iTunes with iPods and iPhones.
Apple said it's calling off the dogs because it no longer uses the software code that was the subject of the online discussion, according to a July 8 letter the company sent to BluWiki's pro bono lawyers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
But EFF lawyer Fred von Lohmann claimed victory, saying that Apple had backed off of overreaching legal claims it made in a November takedown notice it sent to BluWiki. Apple's lawyers at O'Melveny & Myers charged that posts on the site, which included reverse engineering of Apple's iTunes software, were a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's anti-circumvention measures.
"Apple's threats were clearly designed to censor pure speech -- there was no software there, there were no tools, there were no hacking devices -- this was just people talking," von Lohmann said. "Apple was well beyond the statute when it made these threats, and apparently they think so now, too."
EFF and Keker & Van Nest fired off a lawsuit for BluWiki against Apple in April, asking a judge to rule that the discussion on the public site was free speech and not a violation of the DMCA. They dropped the lawsuit Wednesday in response to Apple dropping its takedown notice.
Von Lohmann said he was disappointed that Apple had been able to effectively silence the online discussion for the past seven months.
After initiating the matter with lawyers from O'Melveny, Apple used Latham & Watkins lawyers for the court battle. Neither Apple nor the two law firms would comment.
Thomas Burke, a Davis Wright Tremaine lawyer who specializes in Internet and media law, said it's hard to pick a winner in this case.
"You had the preliminaries to a lawsuit that might've been an interesting one, but since it died the way it did, it would be hard to choose sides," Burke said. "The law really didn't get clarified here."
It's not the first time that Apple has been accused of stifling free speech on the Internet. The company has taken legal action against blogs for reporting rumors about Apple products in the past -- and lost. It has also shut down blogs, such as Think Secret, an Apple rumor site run by Harvard senior Nicholas Ciarelli, with legal threats.
It's also not the first time that the EFF has fought back against what it deems to be unfair takedown notices under the DMCA. The organization has a lawsuit pending against Universal Music Group for sending a takedown notice to YouTube for a 29-second clip showing a baby dancing to a Prince song.