Today in a Manhattan courtroom, David Einhorn and Greenlight Capital’s legal team will explain to a court why the finance website Seeking Alpha should reveal the identity of a heretofore anonymous blogger who revealed information on Greenlight’s stock holdings. Readers will recall that ValueWalk was the first to reveal the court documents, and in a later article that day, we questioned the real issue in the lawsuit – freedom of the press.
Today The New York Times‘ Andrew Ross Sorkin writes, “The case could be a watershed for both the reporting of financial news using anonymous sources, and perhaps more important, the increasing trend of confidential information being posted anonymously on social media like Twitter and the comment sections of established news websites.”
Did multiple parties come into contact with “confidential” info?
At issue is a post on Seeking Alpha by the anonymous blogger who goes by the handle of Valuable Insights on November 14, 2013. It revealed Greenlight’s stake in Micron Technology, Inc. (NASDAQ:MU).
Court documents reviewed by ValueWalk point to one of Greenlight’s primary claims, which is that Seeking Alpha published information that only could have come from someone who signed a confidentiality agreement. “Defendant has improperly accessed Greenlight’s confidential and proprietary information. Upon information and belief, Defendant has also improperly disseminated such information by November 14, 2013, internet postings (the “Internet Postings”),” the legal document reads.
It is unknown who leaked the information, but there are a number of people and organizations that we can assume came in contact with the information other than those who signed a confidentiality agreement. On Nov. 14, seeking to keep its holdings confidential, Greenlight had requested confidential treatment from the Securities and Exchange Commission. When the information was published by Seeking Alpha, Greenlight alleges in its suit that it could have only come from a person who had confidential access to the fund. But did everyone at the SEC sign a confidentiality document? Have financial regulators ever engaged in unauthorized leaking of information?
While this may be a technicality, it should not obscure the larger issue, that of press freedom, which The New York Times detailed in today’s DealBook post.
New York Times raises issue of press freedom
“Leaks to the media are a well-worn tradition on Wall Street,” Sorkin wrote. “Yet rarely do firms go after the leakers—or the media outlets that published the leaked information—in court. It is not necessarily a criminal violation to leak confidential information, but it may be a civil violation if an individual breached a fiduciary duty or breached a specific agreement to keep certain information private.” After reviewing the court documents, Greenlight has presented no evidence that would definitively prove the blogger had signed a confidentiality agreement.
Then Sorkin hit on a fascinating topic that asks the question, “Just how far will Seeking Alpha go to protect its source?” “Journalists have traditionally been protected by state shield laws or other court protections that allow them to publish confidential information without disclosing the identity of their sources. Even when courts do get involved, many journalists are willing to go to jail rather than comply with judges’ orders.”
Will Seeking Alpha‘s publishers or owners go to jail to protect their contributor’s source? If they play their legal cards right, they may not have to make that decision.
H/T Julia La Roche of BusinessInsider