DETROIT - A federal judge in Detroit last week allowed an Internet publisher to use Ford Motor Co. internal documents as fodder for his Web site.
Ford had wanted to prohibit Robert Lane, who runs the Internet Web site blueovalnews.com, from posting any information contained in secret Ford documents. But under federal District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds' order, Lane is allowed to use the information to write and post stories as any journalist would.
'This case represents a clash between our commitment to freedom of speech and the press and our dedication to the protection of commercial innovation and intellectual property,' Edmunds wrote. 'In this case, the First Amendment won.'
In denying Ford's motion for a preliminary injunction against Lane, Edmunds staked out clear definitions of what is protected speech on the Internet.
'It is an important ruling,' said Floyd Abrams, a noted First Amendment lawyer. 'It is the first in which a court applies directly to someone using a Web site the same body of law that the First Amendment has been held to establish elsewhere.'
Lane, a 32-year-old Dearborn nursing student, started his Web site to praise and discuss vintage Mustangs. Ford gave him access to the company's media-only Web site and credentials for this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit. But Lane's relationship with Ford soured this summer when he started posting internal company documents, including one that detailed power deficiency troubles with the Ford Mustang Cobra.
A couple of weeks after Lane posted that document, Ford won a temporary restraining order barring Lane from using any of the secret documents that had been mailed to him. Lane said internal Ford documents first were mailed anonymously to his home and post office box last May.
Under Edmunds' order, Lane may excerpt and paraphrase from copyrighted documents, but he may not publish those documents in their entirety, as he did late last month.
'He has clearly broken laws and has damaged Ford,' said company spokesman Jim Cain.
FORD PURSUING CASE
Ford is now suing Lane for damages the company incurred by his posting the company secrets on the Web. Ford also claims Lane violated the Michigan Uniform Trade Secrets Act by disclosing secret information he had reason to know was obtained illegally.
Lane was ordered by the court to give Ford an itemized list of each document he has and an explanation of how he got it. The order also said Lane has to identify the source of each document. He has said in court he does not know who sent them.
Ford will continue to pursue the lawsuit, Cain said. The company hopes to protect its copyright and trademark laws and 'get to the bottom of how this information came into (Lane's) possession,' Cain said.
Lane's lawyer, Nashville attorney Mark Pickrell, said Lane will spend the next week getting the list together and then go back to his nursing studies and his Web site.