Apple has lost its battle to find out where online journalists get information on company products.

The ruling from an appeals court in California on Friday means that online writers in the US are protected by the state's shield law for reporters as well as by the 1st Amendment, the state Court of Appeal in San Jose ruled, reversing a lower court decision.

Apple subpoenaed the email provider of Jason O'Grady, publisher of O'Grady's PowerPage, an internet site that posted information in 2004 about an unreleased Apple product.

The ruling establishes that web reporters have the same right to protect the confidentially of sources as other reporters, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"Today's decision is a victory for the rights of journalists, whether online or offline, and for the public at large", said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl, who argued the case before the appeals court last month. "The court has upheld the strong protections for the free flow of information to the press, and from the press to the public."

The case began when Apple Computer sued several unnamed individuals, called "Does", who allegedly leaked information about an upcoming product to online news sites PowerPage and AppleInsider. As part of its investigation, Apple subpoenaed Nfox - PowerPage's email service provider - for communications and unpublished materials obtained by PowerPage publisher Jason O'Grady. A trial court upheld the subpoena.

The ruling overturned a March 2005 ruling that Apple could subpoena two online news sites, the email service provider for O'Grady and the publisher of a third website to find out the source of the leak.