Apple loses bid to block Mac OS X copy protection secrets in clone case

Not really secret, says federal judge, in latest ruling of long-running Psystar lawsuit

A federal judge this week denied Apple's request to keep secret the technical information that describes how the company locks Mac OS X to its hardware.

The Monday ruling by U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup was the latest in the still-not-quite-dead case between Apple and now-defunct Mac clone maker Psystar.

Alsup denied Apple's motion to keep numerous court documents under seal, saying in his ruling that Apple's argument of "compelling trade secrets" was too weak to trump the public's right to judicial proceedings.

Among the secrets Apple asked the court to keep was Mac OS X's built-in copy protection. Previously, Apple had argued that Psystar circumvented that copy protection to install OS X on Mac clones.

Specifically, Alsup noted that much of what Apple wanted to keep under wraps was, in fact, public knowledge -- available on the Internet -- or could be uncovered by reverse engineering the Mac OS X code.

Apple claimed that because it was not the source of the secrets or had confirmed the information, the court should keep the technical details under wraps.

Alsup disagreed.

"In fact, Apple's Vice-President of Core OS Software admits that 'third parties may have accurately deduced and published some of the material Apple seeks to maintain as sealed,'" said Alsup.

"Apple cannot have this Court seal information merely to avoid confirming that the publicly available sources got it right," Alsup added.

The Cupertino, Calif. company is notoriously secretive about its products, and has fought in the past to keep information from being disclosed during legal proceedings.

Psystar and Apple have been battling in court since July 2008, when Apple sued the Florida company over copyright and software licensing violations.

The case wound down in late 2009, when Alsup ruled that Psystar had violated Apple's copyright as well as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) when it installed Mac OS X on Intel-based computers.

Subsequently, the two reached a partial settlement that required Psystar to pay Apple $2.7 million, which according to earlier bankruptcy filings Psystar did not have. Psystar has been barred from selling clones equipped with Mac OS X for more than two years, and the company's website has long since disappeared.

Psystar lost an appeal last September, but the company's lawyer said he would take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary.

"The principal issue in the case is Apple's limiting Mac OS X to its own hardware," said K.A.D. Camera of the Houston firm Camera & Sibley, in an interview last year. "But this is more than only Psystar. It could determine whether the likes of Dell can sell machines that run OS X."

Checks of the U.S. federal court's electronic database by Computerworld today found that the un-redacted documents have not yet been posted by the court's clerk.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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