Division II: Cable Rebroadcast Fees for Tacoma Network Not Trade Secrets
The City of Tacoma has his own cable system. It had agreements with five broadcasters. A public records request came through to disclose the pricing of those agreements. This is not entirely unexpected, is people probably want to know what their city is paying for. The trial court had denied the public records request in part, saying that some of the information (the pricing) was a trade secret.
The Court of Appeals however held that the pricing information was not a trade secret. First, the city had specifically put the broadcasters on notice that the terms of the agreement were subject to potential disclosure under the Public Records Act.
Second, in order for something to be a trade secret under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, there has to be reasonable efforts to maintain secrecy. For instance, no one but Coca-Cola knows the formula to Coca-Cola. No one but Microsoft knows the source code for windows. One is not entitled to simply state “our way of doing things is different, therefore it is a trade secret.” The court had dealt with this when a law firm sought to protect its billing information which it contended was unique as compared to other law firms. The burden is on the person claiming trade secret to show that they are indeed different.
Similarly, here, the broadcasters’ allegations of harm are too conclusory in speculative. They make the same argument as the firm in Robbins: Release of this information would give competitors an unfair advantage. This reason alone is insufficient to prove that the information is a trade secret. The broadcasters have not proven that their prices have independent economic value to their competitors or other cable systems. As broadcasters concede, every negotiation is different. Markets and cable systems vary. Prices fluctuate over time. Thus, it does not follow that the other cable systems could viably argue that they are entitled to the same price as a cable system in a different market during a different time period. Moreover, it is not clear from the record that Click!’s fees would set a ceiling on fees because the record does not state that Click!’s fees are consistently lower than the fees paid by other cable systems.
Additionally, the broadcasters failed to show that their RCA fees are unique. Like the firm in Robbins, the broadcasters merely presented conclusory and speculative statements arguing that their approaches are unique and specific to each negotiation. There is no support for this statement because the broadcaster stated that their fees are unique, but they admit that they have not seen the other broadcasters’ RCAs. And the underrated RCAs are not in the record. The City, the only party to view all of the underrated RCAs, determined that no PRA exemption applied to bar disclosure of the RCAs. The broadcasters’ assertions are conclusory and speculative and we hold that the RCA prices are not trade secrets.
I only have one problem with this opinion, and is a problem that plagues every lawyer and law student and law clerk. That would be the clause starting a sentence with the word and. Unfortunately, not every typo or grammatical error can be found in every opinion 100% of the time. Even things I’ve spent significant time on will end up with me discovering a misplaced comma or a mistyped word the second after I click send.
Lucky for me, with blogging and dictation, I really don’t worry about such endeavors (not because I don’t make mistakes, but I simply don’t care).