The 19-year-old publisher of a Web site facing a lawsuit over an article about a top-secret $499 Apple computer said yesterday he can't afford to defend himself. Apple Computer is suing...

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BOSTON — The 19-year-old publisher of a Web site facing a lawsuit over an article about a top-secret $499 Apple computer said yesterday he can’t afford to defend himself.

Apple Computer is suing Harvard University student Nicholas Ciarelli’s Web site, www.ThinkSecret.com, alleging it illegally published company trade secrets. The Jan. 4 lawsuit also targets the Web site’s unnamed sources for the leaks.

Ciarelli, whose identity as the site’s publisher and editor was only published this week, is not named as a defendant. But he still needs a lawyer, and said he is hoping to find free or low-cost legal help to argue that he deserves First Amendment protection and used proper news-gathering techniques to break news about the Mac mini computer and other inside information about Apple.

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“A lot of lawyers are interested in my case, but few are able to do it for free or low cost,” Ciarelli, of Cazenovia, N.Y., said in an e-mail interview. “I’m seeking representation.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil-liberties group in San Francisco, said yesterday it would not defend Think Secret even though it is defending two other sites, AppleInsider.com and PowerPage.org, that Apple is trying to subpoena to reveal sources.

Unlike the Think Secret case, those sites are not being sued.

“In addition to being subpoenaed for sources, he’s being directly sued for trade-secret misappropriation,” said Kurt Opsahl, a staff attorney with the organization. “We’re trying to find him counsel.”

Ciarelli, who described himself as “an enthusiastic fan of Apple’s products since an early age,” started www.ThinkSecret.com in 1998 when he was 13. The site, which accepts advertising, is read by Apple enthusiasts and industry analysts because of its exclusive stories about company developments.

On Dec. 28, the Web site published an article that, citing “highly reliable sources,” revealed details of an inexpensive, bare-bones Mac mini computer that would be priced at $499 — two weeks before the Mac mini was launched at Apple’s MacWorld conference.

Another Think Secret story on Jan. 6 correctly predicted Apple’s rollout at this week’s show of a $149, 1-gigabite flash-memory version of the company’s popular iPod music player.

In a statement yesterday, Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple said the Web site “solicited information about unreleased Apple products from these individuals, who violated their confidentiality agreements with Apple by providing details that were later posted on the Internet.”

Apple declined to answer questions yesterday about whether Ciarelli, who called himself Nick dePlume online instead of using his real name, would also be sued.

Ciarelli’s identity as the site’s editor and publisher had circulated recently on the Internet, but the information only became widely known Wednesday, when The Harvard Crimson, the university’s student newspaper, confirmed it.

The Think Secret case is the third intellectual-property lawsuit that Apple has filed recently.

At the MacWorld show Tuesday, executives said the company is merely defending itself.

“Innovation is what Apple is all about, and we want to continue to innovate and surprise and delight people with great products, so we have a right to protect our innovation and secrecy,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing.