4G iPhone: ‘Are bloggers journalists? I guess we’ll find out’ – Gawker’s Denton

Apple Online Store“Gawker Media said on Monday that computers belonging to one of its editors, Jason Chen, were seized from his home on Friday as part of what appeared to be an investigation into the sale of a next-generation iPhone,” Brian Stelter and Nick Bilton report for The New York Times. “One of Gawker’s blogs, Gizmodo, published articles last week about the future phone after purchasing the device for $5,000 from a person who found it at a bar in California last month.”

“Gawker’s chief operating officer, Gaby Darbyshire, said it expected the immediate return of the computers and servers,” Stelter and Bilton report. “‘Under both state and federal law, a search warrant may not be validly issued to confiscate the property of a journalist,’ she wrote in a letter to San Mateo County, Calif., authorities on Saturday. ‘Jason is a journalist who works full time for our company,’ she continued, adding that he works from home, his ‘de facto newsroom.'”

“‘It is abundantly clear under the law that a search warrant to remove these items was invalid. The appropriate method of obtaining such materials would be the issuance of a subpoena,’ Ms. Darbyshire continued,” Stelter and Bilton report. “The letter was shared on Monday afternoon by Nick Denton, the founder and president of Gawker Media. ‘Are bloggers journalists? I guess we’ll find out,’ Mr. Denton said in an instant message.”

MacDailyNews Take: Can a blogger, or a journalist (which for quite some time, in America at least, is a blogger who pretends to be impartial) commit a robbery at gunpoint and then claim journalist shield laws protect him from handing over or having the gun seized by warrant or from even being charged with a crime? Are bloggers and/or “journalists” allowed to do whatever they want and then hide behind freedom of the press? If so, cool. We’re off to the bank, we’ll be back in a jiffy assuming things go smoothly.

Seriously, though, there are many questions: Gizmodo is claiming they didn’t know for sure that the device was Apple’s, so that’s why they rolled the dice and bought it for $5,000, but once Gizmodo established that it was Apple’s property, did they have the right to publish information about it, including photos, videos, and even going so far as to publish an amateur teardown of the device? Do any industrial espionage laws apply in this case? Did the police take Chen’s computers and devices in order to find out who sold the iPhone to them? If so, does that breach the blogger’s right to protect his source(s)? Should the cops have used a subpoena instead of a search warrant? What’s the difference between finding lost property and theft? What, if any, are the penalties for selling lost or stolen property in California? What, if any, are the penalties for buying property that you know or suspect is lost or stolen in California? Obviously, there are many open questions left to be answered.

Stelter and Bilton report, “According to people familiar with the investigation, who would not speak on the record because of the potential legal case, charges would most likely be filed against the person or people who sold the prototype iPhone, and possibly the buy.”

Full article here.

John Gruber writes for Daring Fireball, “In other words, if the only target of the criminal investigation is the kid who found the unit and sold it to Gizmodo, then yes, Jason Chen should be considered protected by California’s shield law. They should have issued a subpoena (which means asking Chen to talk to them), and not used a warrant to break into, search, and confiscate items from his home. But if Chen (and, presumably, his employer, Gawker Media) is himself the target of a felony investigation, the shield laws aren’t relevant. The shield laws are about allowing journalists to protect sources.”

Full article here.


  1. Sure bloggers are journalists. The question is when did purchasing and receiving stolen merchandise, and disclosing private/sensitive company information to competitors become journalism?

  2. I think you’ll find there is a pretty solid distinction between a “journalist’s” tools and other items that person may have possession of. That gun you mentioned would certainly be searchable while the computer(s) used for reporting would not be.
    The offer to buy stated “no questions asked”, which is hardly a protection for Gizmodo but good for the seller. And that offer could be found on the site without any legal paperwork at all. The offer, the following through, would seem to be sufficient proof of intent.

  3. ahm, if I find one iphone in the bar I would give it to the bar’s owner, or let the bartender know / or do it.
    How possibly, in any world, take it home is not steal? and how in any world, sell a “found” iphone at ebay is not sell stolen iphone? nobody is this case is dumb enough.

  4. Hasn’t Gizmodo been invited to Apple’s “press-only” events recently? If so, then Apple has already deemed them to be “the press” and it seems to me it would be hard to argue otherwise now.

  5. No, Bloggers are not journalists.
    We already know this. The fact that they can post things to a web address does not make them journalists any more than me posting this response to the site makes me a journalist.

  6. Are bloggers journalists?

    As long as they are informing the general public and not just their grandmother. (I don’t think of my kids as journalists)

    Does the Calif Shield Law apply here. As much as I don’t like Gizmodo, I have to say I don’t know.

  7. MDN forgot to ask:
    “How many licks does it take to get to the chewy, chocolatey center of a Tootsie Pop?”

    ok, so that might only be recalled by the older folks who frequent this site…

  8. I don’t know about Californian law, but I think it would be a healthy thing for our society to send those guys to prison. For me, the worst part is that they offered money for stolen information. Do we really want that kind of stuff happening again in the future? I mean, if they were journalists and disclose a case like Watergate, well ok, but for a new telephone? Just asking, is there in the US something like press passports? I mean it can’t be that a blog gives you the right to steal stuff. Wow, sorry about this chaotic post, but I’m really confused about these news, it’s so crazy. And in the end, you will read everywhere about “evil” Steve Jobs. That sucks.
    MDN word: money.
    Yes, do something bad and get 5000$

  9. @ Grimmac

    It seems to me that if you take money for something, you have claimed ownership of it. If the Finder had given the money to Gray or Apple it might be another situation. But the Finder KEPT THE MONEY. This (to me anyway) implies taking ownership of the phone and exchanging value for value. I don’t know how that’s not theft.

  10. Let me start of by saying that I am all for the 1st Amendment and the Freedom of Speech. As a senior editor of a small Apple News site (AppleScoop.com), I totally agree with what law enforcement has done.

    Gizmodo.com, in its blindness to be “the first” to get their hands on a non public prototype device, committed a crime by

    1) Purchasing a STOLEN device.
    2) Publishing a report on a NON PUBLIC prototype device.

    I also feel that the editor(s) should be treated as criminals, have a criminal record, and be put in jail for no less then 3 months AND the web site shut down during that time as well.

    Reporting on RUMORS and speculation is one thing, but when someone commits a crime to get their hands on a prototype device AND publish a full page report about it HAS to be dealt with swiftly and quickly.

  11. Since when do journaists have the right to knowingly deal in stolen property and disclose intellectual property trade secrets to the financial detriment of the property holder? It’s elementatr my dear Watson!

  12. I have a personal blog, but I am by no stretch a journalist. If you report professionally (key word) then you can be a journalist. If this guy wrote on that blog professionally, then he is a journalist.

    If he paid $5,000 for a device that you can buy for $600 (an iPhone without contract) he knew something was very special about this phone. If he paid $600, he didn’t know it was anything other than just an ordinary iPhone. He paid $5,000.

    Stolen or “lost property”? Has anyone in the history of mankind ever paid a high sum of money for a lost item they had zero connection with, photographed it, took it apart, then reported it as the revolutionary new device that only we have access to – and claimed then they didn’t know it was not a stolen device? No. Has anyone in the history of mankind ever paid a high sum of money for a device they knew damn good as well they were not supposed to have so they could get a scoop and make money off of it, then tried to lie their way out of it so as to not get into trouble for doing what the knew beyond a shadow of a doubt they should not be doing? Hell yes. Too many time to count.

    Justify it any way you want. They are wrong and they knew it the whole time. I hope this “reporter” rots in jail for years as an example of what happens to people that commit felonies and then lie about it.

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