Gizmodo Dodges Apple iPhone 4 Legal Charges

Gizmodo has dodged criminal charges related to its dissection of an Apple iPhone 4 prototype lost in a California bar in 2010. But others weren't so lucky.

California prosecutors apparently have no plans to file charges against Gizmodo employees who purchased an iPhone 4 prototype in 2010. The tech blog's Jason Chen publicly dissected the device online, attracting millions of readers and the considerable ire of Apple, which likes to keep its upcoming products hidden behind a thick veil of secrecy.

"The difficulty we faced is that Mr. Chen and Gizmodo were primarily, in their view, engaged in a journalistic endeavor to conduct an investigation into the phone and type of phone it was, and they were protected by the shield law," San Mateo County Assistant District Attorney Morley Pitt told the Associated Press Aug 10.

He added: "We concluded it is a very gray area; they do have a potential claim and this was not the case with which we were going to put the envelope."

The saga started when Apple engineer Gray Powell lost the prototype in at the Gourmet Haus Staudt restaurant in Redwood City, Calif. The device's discoverers subsequently sold it to Gizmodo's parent company, and by April 19, Gizmodo had its now-infamous dissection posting online.

Several days later, on April 23, members of California's REACT (Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team) arrived at Chen's home with a warrant issued by the Superior Court of San Mateo, Calif., authorizing them to take digital property associated with the prototype iPhone. REACT's 25-company steering committee reportedly includes Apple.

"My wife and I drove to dinner and got back at around 9:45 p.m.," Chen wrote in an April 26 statement posted on Gizmodo. "When I got home, I noticed the garage door was half open, and when I tried to open it, officers came out and said they had a warrant to search my house and any vehicles on the property -in my control.'"

While Gizmodo seems to have escaped any legal consequences, prosecutors are filing charges against the two men, identified as Brian Hogan and Sage Wallower, who found the prototype. If convicted, according to AP, "each faces a maximum of a year in county jail, plus fines and probation."

The early leak had a negligible effect on sales of the iPhone 4, which remains the linchpin of Apple's smartphone line. Analysts and pundits widely expect the company to release the next iPhone, popularly dubbed the "iPhone 5," sometime in the September-October time frame. It's questionable whether Gizmodo will be invited to the launch.

Chen subsequently left Gizmodo to work for Lifehacker.

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