Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing, reports:

Apple has lost its bid to force websites to reveal the identity of their sources. Apple argued that because the websites weren’t “real news agencies” they shouldn’t be entitled to the protection that newspapers and other news-gatherers enjoy. This was pretty off-message from the “think different” company that has talked a big game about empowering average people to do extraordinary things.

Apple further argued that it had no means to discover the identities of its leaking employees save compelling the sites to reveal them. The courts rejected this too, saying first that Apple could get at those sources by investigating its employees, and wanted to get out of doing a dirty job by putting the sites on the spot. The court further elaborated on the public value of free speech, saying that free speech was more important than trade secrets.

This is new law, specifically that “the federal Stored Communications Act protects private e-mail from civil subpoenas” — that means that ISPs and other entities who store email have the law on their side when people sue their customers.

EFF and its allies at cyber-law clinics argued this case, and it’s an important win for bloggers and other citizen journalists who now know that the courts will give them the same respect afforded to big corporate news-gatherers.

The Sixth District Court of Appeals on Friday roundly rejected (.pdf) Apple’s argument that the bloggers weren’t acting as journalists when they posted internal document about future Apple products. “We decline the implicit invitation to embroil ourselves in questions of what constitutes ‘legitimate journalis(m).’ The shield law is intended to protect the gathering and dissemination of news, and that is what petitioners did here,” the court wrote.

“Beyond casting aspersions on the legitimacy of petitioners’ enterprise, Apple offers no cogent reason to conclude that they fall outside the shield law’s protection.”