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Apple lawyers issue cease-and-desist letter over $100K tablet 'bounty'

A Web site offering up to $100,000 for details on Apple's forthcoming tablet has been asked by the Cupertino, Calif., company's lawyers to stop, alleging the "bounty" is in violation of California laws protecting trade secrets.

Attorney Michael C. Spillner, with Apple's law firm Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe sent a letter to Valleywag Wednesday evening demanding that the online publication discontinue its offer by 6 p.m. Pacific Time Thursday.

"While Apple appreciates vibrant public commentary about its products, we believe you and your company have cross the line by offering a bounty for the theft of Apple's trade secrets," the letter to Gabriel Snyder, editor in chief, reads. "Such an offer is illegal and Apple insists that you immediately discontinue the Scavenger Hunt."

Valleywag responded by sarcastically declaring Apple the winner of its "contest," by providing the "most concrete proof" of the tablet's existence yet through its cease-and-desist letter. But the publication said its request for information remains open.

"If you've found proof that the Apple Tablet exists and can share it with us, we're still offering prizes," editor Gabriel Snyder wrote. "Apple, of course, has plenty of good lawyers like Michael Spillner, so we reiterate our advice 'to stay within the bounds of the law.' And also: use anonymous email addresses! We can't tell Apple who you are if we don't know who you are."

On Wednesday, the publication gained publicity through its $100,000 "scavenger hunt." The publication said it would pay $10,000 for pictures of Apple's long-rumored tablet, $20,000 for a video of it in action, $50,000 for pictures or video of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs holding one, and $100,000 to let the Web site use the tablet for one hour.

With Apple rumored to hold an event in less than two weeks to unveil new products, speculation has been rampant that the tablet will see a public debut before the end of January. Reports have said Apple has rented the stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on Wednesday, Jan. 27. Sources also told The Wall Street Journal that the long-awaited touchscreen device would likely ship in March.

But how the device works, or even exactly what it is, remains a matter of debate. General consensus suggests the tablet will be akin to a jumbo iPod touch, with a screen size between 10 inches and 11 inches. It will act as a multimedia, multi-function device allowing users to watch movies, play games, surf the Internet, and read electronic books and newspapers.

The tablet's alleged role as an e-reader picked up steam last fall when multiple rumors surfaced that Apple had contacted print publications to make their content available on a forthcoming device. While some have speculated that the device will be a "Kindle killer", it is widely believed Apple's new hardware will do much more than offer books and newspapers.

In an interview last September, Jobs said last "dedicated devices" like the Kindle will remain niche products, while multi-purpose devices like the iPhone "will win the day." Jobs also said he believes the market for e-books is currently very small.