Sticklers for journalistic propriety have always frowned upon checkbook journalism, which is far more rampant now thanks to the internet. Thankfully for checkbook journalists though, their critics can do little more than protest. But buying a story is one thing, and flouting the law in doing so a totally different affair.
Last week, when Gizmodo proudly flaunted what it claimed to be a misplaced prototype of the next iPhone, it prompted many to question the legality of the way in which the phone was acquired – the blog’s editors avowedly paid $5000 for the misplaced phone. Under state law, a finder of goods who can determine the owner of lost property is under legal obligation to return it to its original owner, and the failure to do so makes him guilty of theft.
It has now emerged that cops investigating the matter raided Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's house on Friday and confiscated four computers and two servers. According to Jason Chen, cops bust into his house in his absence and were busy scouring the place for evidence when he and his wife arrived from dinner at around 9:45PM. The cops were carrying a search warrant issued by the Superior Court of the County of San Mateo, California.
Gawker Media COO Gaby Darbyshire believes that the search warrant against Gizmodo's editor contravened section 1524(g) of the California Penal Code, which states that “a publisher, editor, reporter, or other person connected with or employed upon a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication” can not be forced to make any disclosures with regards to the source of any information obtained by them in their official capacity.
The entire tech world sat up and took notice this week when a prototype of the next generation iPhone was detailed by Gizmodo. Apparently Silicon Valley law enforcement was paying attention too, and have now launched an investigation into the incident. The goal of the inquiry, which is headed by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office, is to determine if there is sufficient evidence to file a criminal case.
The next-gen iPhone was lost in a bar by an Apple engineer that was testing it, or so the story goes. An unnamed party found it, and upon realizing it was not a normal iPhone began shopping it around to gadget blogs. Editors at Gizmodo disclosed on their site that the person who found the phone was paid $5000 for it. It is currently unclear if the investigation is targeting Gizmodo's parent entity, Gawker Media, or the individual that sold them the phone.
California law makes clear that knowingly receiving stolen property is in almost as much trouble as the one who stole the property. Going after Gawker, however, would likely run afoul of 1st Amendment freedom of the press issues. Of course, all this is completely separate from any civil action Apple might take against Gawker for the leak. What's your take? Does the phone count as stolen? If so, should Gawker/Gizmodo be held liable.