A Web site that disclosed Apple's top-secret plans to bring out a $499 mini computer and a new bare-bones iPod -- prompting a lawsuit from the company -- turns out to be the brainchild of a 19-year-old Harvard University student.

Nicholas M. Ciarelli, who says he had been "an enthusiastic fan" of Apple for years, said Friday hopes to find free or low-cost legal help to defend the suit, arguing that he deserves First Amendment protection.

At the company's annual MacWorld conference Tuesday in San Francisco, Apple Computer Inc. chief executive Steve Jobs introduced a cut-rate computer the size of a paperback and a tiny iPod music player that starts at $99.

Citing "highly reliable sources," Ciarelli's Web site, http://www.thinksecret.com, had reported December 28 that the company would be bringing out a $499 Mac mini computer. On January 6, it predicted the $99 iPod, though it got some details wrong.

Ciarelli's identity as the site's editor and publisher was revealed on Wednesday in The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper.

Apple sued Think Secret on January 4, contending the Web site violated trade secrets. Besides the site, it named as defendants unidentified sources who tipped off the online publication about the launch.

Think Secret "solicited information about unreleased Apple products from these individuals, who violated their confidentiality agreements with Apple by providing details that were later posted on the Internet," said Apple in a statement.

But Ciarelli said his articles were protected by the First Amendment and that information was gathered using proper newsgathering techniques.

"A lot of lawyers are interested in my case, but few are able to do it for free or low cost," Ciarelli, of Cazenovia, New York, said in an e-mail interview. "I'm seeking representation."

Ciarelli has been editing and publishing the site under the pen name "Nick dePlume" since age 13. The site, which accepts advertising, is popular with enthusiasts of the company's products and industry analysts.

Apple declined to answer questions Friday about whether it would now sue Ciarelli himself.

Source: CNN News

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