By LAURIE J. FLYNN
SAN FRANCISCO, March 11 - A California judge ruled Friday that Apple Computer has the right to subpoena the names of sources and documents relating to confidential company information that was published late last year by three Web sites.
Judge James P. Kleinberg of the Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose, Calif., said in a 13-page ruling that Apple's interest in protecting its trade secrets outweighed the public's right to information about Apple and the right of bloggers to disseminate that.
The ruling skirted the question of whether the Web sites were protected by the same laws that protect professional journalists, as civil liberties groups had argued, and focused on the notion that the published information included trade secrets and was essentially stolen property.
The ruling came in the three-month-old lawsuit brought by Apple against the unnamed individuals, presumably Apple employees, who reportedly leaked information about new music software, code-named Asteroid, which the company said constituted a trade secret. Under California law, divulging trade secrets is subject to civil and criminal penalties.
That information was published on three Apple enthusiast Web sites, Apple Insider, Think Secret and PowerPage. The Web sites were not named in the suit.
In the course of discovery, Apple served a subpoena on Nfox.com, the e-mail service provider for PowerPage, seeking information and documents that might identify the source of the disclosure of Apple's new product. The Web sites sought to block that subpoena.
The case has been closely watched for its potential impact on the publishers of Web sites and bloggers, who say the privilege of reporters to protect their confidential sources should extend to online writers.
But Judge Kleinberg wrote that assuming Apple's accusations are true, the information is "stolen property, just as any physical item, such as a laptop computer containing the same information on its hard drive (or not) would be."[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: To read New York Times on line each day with no login or registration requirements, read it here at our site at . Hundreds of new items each day. PAT]