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The Practical Employer

Apple Employee Gaffe Illustrates Risk Posed by YouTube Videos in Protection of Trade Secrets

However unfortunate, this story is an excellent illustration of the steps that companies are compelled to take to keep their trade secrets, well, secret.

An Apple employee lost his job this week after his daughter, Brooke Amelia Peterson, posted a YouTube video of her dad’s brand new, unreleased iPhone X.

ReCode has the details:

Peterson posted a five-minute video of a September day in Silicon Valley, which mostly included shopping for makeup and clothing. Harmless, and not unlike other YouTube videos posted by teenagers.

But then, in the video, she visits her father on Apple’s campus in Cupertino for what seems like dinner. As they munch on pizzas in the company’s cafeteria, Peterson’s dad hands her his iPhone X to test. That’s when YouTube viewers got about 45 seconds of footage of Peterson scrolling through various screens on the new design and showing off its camera.

After Peterson’s video went viral (including its republication on a variety of popular Apple blogs), Apple fired her dad. According to The Verge, Apple strictly prohibits filming on its campus, and the at-issue video not only revealed the unreleased iPhone X, but also information on other not-yet-released products.

The video itself may have seemed like an innocent hands-on, but it did include footage of an iPhone X with special employee-only QR codes. A notes app was also shown on the iPhone X in the video, which appeared to include code names of unreleased Apple products.

No company takes its trade secrets more seriously than Apple. This story is an excellent illustration of the steps that companies are compelled to take to keep their trade secrets, well, secret.

One of the key elements courts apply to determine whether a claimed trade secret is worthy of protection is the steps the purported holder takes to maintain its secrecy. While Apple cannot preemptively stop all video recording on its campus, it can terminate employees who violate that policy.

Courts have held that the public posting of a YouTube video of a purported ‘trade secret’ will strip said trade secret of its protection as such. For example, consider Madison Oslin, Inc. v. Interstate Resources, Inc., in which a Maryland federal court concluded that a company forfeited trade secret protections because of a publicly available YouTube video describing the purported ‘secrets.’

Apple really had no choice but to fire Peterson’s dad. An employee violated its policy, which resulted in secret information becoming very, very public.

Brooke Amelia Peterson learned a valuable, in her case, cruel lesson. When a company takes its trade secrets seriously, you best do so too, lest you cause a termination, or, worse, a lawsuit.

Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Hyman’s blog at Workforce.com/PracticalEmployer.