Will Media Shield Laws Protect Gizmodo?

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2010-04-27 Print this article Print

5. Apple finally got it back

After the news broke that Gizmodo had acquired the iPhone and it discussed its features, Apple's legal counsel sent a memo to Gizmodo requesting the device back. The tech blog used that request as proof that it was in fact an authentic Apple product. Upon receiving the iPhone, Apple has said nothing about the device and has yet to confirm it was really the iPhone 4G. Nonetheless, the iPhone is back in Apple's hands, and we won't learn anymore about it until Apple finally confirms its existence.

6. Chen could be charged with a felony

Until Apple recovered the iPhone, it was all fun and games for Gizmodo and those who wanted to learn more about the new iPhone. But it quickly turned serious when reports started surfacing claiming Chen could be charged with a felony because of the way he acquired the device. Since then, his home has been searched and computers and other electronics have been seized by local police in an attempt to determine if a crime was actually committed. For his part, Chen says he is innocent. But whether or not the district attorney will agree remains to be seen.

7. He could also be covered under media shield laws

Chen might have a valid defense if he is in fact charged with a crime. Gizmodo's chief legal counsel sent a letter to local police, which was subsequently posted on the tech blog, saying that Chen is a journalist and thus, under California (and federal) law, a warrant cannot be issued to search his home and seize property that could have been used for the purposes of a news story. Court decisions in the past provide Gizmodo and Chen with the precedent they need to show that online journalists are, in fact, covered under the same protections as traditional journalists. Assuming the district attorney interprets the laws the same way Gizmodo's legal counsel does, Chen might not be charged with a crime.

8. Apple hasn't chimed in

As the drama continues at Gizmodo, Cupertino has been silent. Jobs, his executives and even his PR team have been mum on whether or not they have any opinion about what's happening to Chen or Gizmodo. It's rather typical from Apple. The company has imposed its will by acquiring the lost iPhone, and now that its work is done, it has decided to say nothing about the issues Gizmodo is facing. Depending on where the law enforcement effort goes, though, at least one Apple employee-the man who lost the iPhone-might need to chime in.

9. Gizmodo maintains its journalistic standards

Some journalists have contended that Chen's decision to buy the iPhone for $5,000 breaks journalistic ethics and standards that have been in place for years. They contend that from an ethical perspective, Chen shouldn't have paid for the story and instead should have reported on the news that the iPhone was lost. Gizmodo and Chen don't agree. They contend that they were doing what they were supposed to do: inform the public on Apple's upcoming products. Either side of the debate can make a valid argument, but it's tough to say which is right.

10. It'll probably blow over

In the end, the chances of Chen being charged with a crime and Apple taking issue with Gizmodo seem relatively slight. Gizmodo could potentially have its trump card, thanks to journalistic protection. And Apple, realizing that Gizmodo was only doing its job, likely won't press the issue more than it already has. In a couple weeks, Gizmodo's ordeal with the iPhone 4G will blow over and the story will be just another interesting saga to discuss in end-of-the-year roundups. But it's certainly fun to watch while it lasts.

Don Reisinger is a freelance technology columnist. He started writing about technology for Ziff-Davis' Gearlog.com. Since then, he has written extremely popular columns for CNET.com, Computerworld, InformationWeek, and others. He has appeared numerous times on national television to share his expertise with viewers. You can follow his every move at http://twitter.com/donreisinger.

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