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Letters Mac sleuth Nick de Plume has won big name legal backing in his fight against Apple, with storied attorney Terry Gross coming to his defense.

No, not the NPR interviewer, but the man who served as special counsel for the EFF and specializing in First Amendment cases, and a successful attorney in several consumer fraud and antitrust cases. He was also, er, Leona Helmsley's lawyer.

Nick de Plume is a nom de plume for 19-year old Harvard Student Nick Ciarelli, who's run the site for six years, and notched up an impressive record of scoops.

"Think Secret's reporting is protected by the First Amendment," said Gross. "The Supreme Court has said that a journalist cannot be held liable for publishing information that the journalist obtained lawfully. Think Secret has not used any improper newsgathering techniques. We will be filing a motion asking the Court to dismiss this case immediately on First Amendment grounds under a California statute which weeds out meritless claims that threaten First Amendment rights."

The lawsuit has chilling effects. If successful, the free press would be restricted to regurgitating Apple press releases and spoonfed non disclosure agreements. For that reason it called be called the "Stop Walt" suit. Now, one might argue that most members of the fourth estate are happy enough to do perform a PR function for Apple already, but that isn't the point.

And as ever, a handful of Apple wingnuts are determined to bring a community of millions into disrepute (See Apple users demand higher prices - worse treatment and these disturbing robo reponses to last year's humiliating Superpower advert.

"ThinkSecret has also violated journalistic ethics by knowingly publishing trade secrets. Neither of you ranks very high on the journalism food chain. ThinkBottomFeeders!" snarls reader Phillip Cripps, in a drastic revision of the ethics issue.

Another compares Ciarelli to a sex pervert:

"Whilst I gobble up the hints of yet unreleased Apple-products as the mac geek that I am, Apple going after its leaks with legal weapons makes sense in a fiscal world, leaking being a breach in the confidentiality agreement between employer and employee. Sites like ThinkSecret must be for Apple the equivalent of Men In Long Coats With Bags Of Candy hanging around at playgrounds," insists John Christensen.

A poster at Matt Rothenberg's blog isn't impressed by this bluster.

"I am disgusted by the morality shown by fanaticals here. To bully a journalist like Nick Ciarelli who is doing his job well - you have forgotten this is supposed to be a free country - Apple is a disgrace ... Shame on all of you", writes 'Farid'.

"How Apple treats Nick Ciarelli will determine wheter I ever buy a Mini Mac. Their arrogance can cost them my sale," warns another.

One wonders if Apple's feet can soak up any more metaphorical ammunition. ®

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