Mystery Lawsuit, Take 2 (12/17/04)

Holy cats-- just when you thought it was safe to go back to the multiplex, it's Worker Bee 2: This Time It's Still Not Personal! Longtime viewers will recall the fun we all had over four years ago when Apple announced that it had filed a lawsuit against... well, it didn't actually know who it had sued, but clearly it was someone very, very naughty. See, Apple was all in a tizzy over someone having swiped confidential images of its new dual-processor Power Macs and Pro Mouse before those products were released; said malfeasant had then posted the illicit images to "rumor-based forums" for all to see, thus spoiling Steve Jobs's Expo surprise. After filing suit, Apple was able to subpoena various ISPs for records that revealed the unknown poster "Worker Bee" to be one Juan Gutierrez, a temp employee who eventually settled with the company by basically promising never to do anything so naughty ever again.

But if he's not up to his old tricks, someone else is clearly trying to live up to the legend; faithful viewer andrü notes that, according to a Reuters article, Apple has once again filed suit against "an unidentified individual" who the company alleges "has recently misappropriated and disseminated through Web sites confidential information about an unreleased Apple product." We assume that, as before, Apple will use this "John Doe" suit to subpoena ISP records in order to ascertain the culprit's identity; once his or her cover's blown, Apple can amend the suit to name the actual miscreant and proceed to sue the living bejeezus out of him/her until he/she is reduced to a blubbering wreck who winds up settling the case by solemnly swearing on a stack of bibles never to blab trade secrets to the frothing Mac-fan masses again.

If you think it sounds overeactive and possibly just a wee bit absurd for Apple to be suing "some guy" without actually knowing who it is first, you may be right-- but we've been assured by legal experts (or, at least, by people who watch way too much Court TV) that this sort of thing happens all the time. And you're focusing on entirely the wrong aspect of the case, here; what's interesting isn't so much Apple's bizarre fixation with suing the unnamed, but rather the fact that the company wouldn't bother trying to put the litigational smackdown on a phantom unless some rumorological scrap publicly floating around out there in the ether is 100 percent dead-on accurate and reveals far too much about next month's Stevenote Surprise.

So the real question for Apple fans isn't so much "whodunnit?" as it is "whaddidwhodo?" Which pre-Stevenote rumor isn't just a muddle of baseless speculation, but really consists of actual stolen data about some fantabulous and unannounced Apple product? We expect it has to be something to do with either the flash-based iPod or the Apple-Motorola mobile phone, because most of the other rumors are simple speed-bumps to existing hardware, and not worth the lawsuit-- and the phone rumors are so recent, we doubt the suit was slapped together quickly enough to be a reaction to them. So now all you have to do is figure out which of the gazillion flashPod specs and/or images teeming out there represents the genuine article. How hard could it be? Here, we'll even start you off: it's probably not this one. Or this one. Or even this one.

Of course, if you really want to make yourself nuts, don't forget that this whole "sue the invisible guy" tactic might just be Apple's brilliant strategy to make us all think that something's out there, thus distracting us while it prepares the real juice for January. Which means we aren't going to know for sure until January 11th. Which is still over three weeks away. Which means our brains are almost certainly going to melt from the suspense. Cleanup on aisle 6!

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The above scene was taken from the 12/17/04 episode:

December 17, 2004: It's Worker Bee all over again, as Apple files another trade secret lawsuit against an unknown culprit. Meanwhile, Microsoft plans to give its customers a toolkit to rid their systems of spyware-- and it'll even be free! For a while...

Other scenes from that episode:

  • 5109: Legal Extortion Is Fun! (12/17/04)   So we were all geared up for Wildly Off-Topic Microsoft-Bashing Day this week with a tirade against Redmond's propensity for lobbing clusters of tightly-packed lawyers at anyone who registered a domain name with at least four letters in common with ""; you probably recall, for example, how it tried to sit on Canadian teen Mike Rowe, whose web site was, appropriately enough,, and who eventually caved and handed over the domain name when Microsoft gave him an Xbox and a chance to meet Bill Gates...

Or view the entire episode as originally broadcast...

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