On July 30th, 2019, the District Court for the Southern District of New York held that a news outlet’s publication of the Democratic National Convention’s (DNC) allegedly stolen trade secrets did not violate the Defend Trade Secrets Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1831, et seq. (“DTSA”).
In April 2018, the DNC filed suit against the Defendants, alleging that the Russian Federation’s military intelligence agency unlawfully hacked into the DNC’s computers and conspired with WikiLeaks to publicly distribute stolen campaign materials, which were at times helpful to the Trump Campaign.
The DNC brought claims under the DTSA against the Russian Federation, WikiLeaks, and Assange. The DTSA prohibits, among other things, the unauthorized disclosure or use of a trade secret that was “derived from or through a person who had used improper means to acquire the trade secret.” The court held that the DNCs claims against the Russian Federation were barred by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1602 et seq., which prohibits suits against the Russian Federation in U.S. courts for government actions.
The court also held that it was “constitutionally insignificant” that WikiLeaks knew the documents it received from the Russian Federation were stolen when it published them, and “irrelevant” that they solicited the documents from Russian intelligence. The court reasoned that the First Amendment protects a journalist’s right to request and publish documents that have been stolen. The court further held that the DNC’s privacy interest in the alleged trade secret materials was insufficient to overcome the First Amendment interest in allowing the publication of truthful information on a matter of public concern—a characterization which the DNC did not dispute. The court stressed that the type of information that WikiLeaks published deserved the strongest protection under the First Amendment, because it allowed the American electorate to “look behind the curtain” of one of the most powerful political parties in the country during a presidential election. The court dismissed with prejudice the DNC’s claims.