Apple vs. Gizmodo

Who are you rooting for?

There’s a lot to chew over, ethically and legally, in Gizmodo’s acquisition of something that looks an awful lot like a prototype for Apple’s next iPhone.

To run back the tape: an Apple employee lost the device at a bar. Someone picked it up, realized they had something very valuable on their hands, and shopped it around. Gizmodo agreed to pay $5,000 to spend some time videoing, photographing, and disassembling the phone. (And drew a boatload of Web traffic for its trouble.)

On Friday, Jason Chen, the Gizmodo blogger who wrote up the site’s findings, returned home at night to find police in the midst of a search. Police documents show that authorities confiscated a bunch of computer equipment.

Gawker, the parent entity of Gizmodo, is saying the search was illegal, and has pointed to provisions in California law that prohibit granting warrants to obtain information that would otherwise be protected by the state’s journalism shield law. But there is some debate about whether Gawker’s decision to pay for the phone, which would probably be considered stolen property under the law, complicates things.

So chime in. Do you think that Gizmodo made a good decision, ethically or legally, to pay for a look at the phone? Or, even if Gizmodo’s actions did amount to crimes, should prosecutorial discretion win the day? Who are you rooting for in this tale?

The iPhone episode raises a host of tricky questions

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.