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April 27, 2010

Gizmodo vs Apple takes new twist

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by Brian Turner

The recent conflict between Gizmodo and Apple took a new twist today, after the website’s editor, Jason Chen, had his home raided by police officers.

The whole issue began after Apple software engineer Gray Powell accidentally left what appears to be a prototype for the new iPhone in a bar.

Gizmodo, one of the biggest tech news websites, then paid $5,000 for the prototype, and published details of the new features they found.

Apple is renown for its aggressive secrecy with development products, famously taking a couple of Apple fan websites to court a few years back over leaked product details.

In the instance of the iPhone prototype, it was reported there was no initial comment from Apple, and then a request for the device to be returned - which Gizmodo reports it complied with.

The search of Jason Chen’s home now brings a new and ugly twist to the whole saga.

According to press reports, the raids were carried out under warrant by the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team (React), a specialist policing unit focused on cybercrime.

The warrant alleges that a crime may have been committed with regards to the acquisition of the iPhone prototype, resulting in Jason Chen’s computer equipment being confiscated and searched.

Protests have already been voiced by freedom advocacy groups, claiming that as Gizmodo is an online news publisher, it’s staff should be afforded the same legal protections of journalists, to report news that is in the public interest.

However, the actual protections bloggers may or may not enjoy remains a clouded legal issue - as yet they are not classed as journalists, perhaps because much of what constitutes blogging is actually regurgitation of existing news.

The issue with Gizmodo highlights the extreme end of this discrepancy, though, as few could argue that Gizmodo is not a leading tech news industry publication - regardless that it is primarily published online, rather than via an offline magazine.

Another potentially complicating factor, that may be the actual founding of the raid, is not so much Gizmodo’s reporting of a prototype iPhone, but how they actually acquired it in the first place.

Earlier reports had suggested the person who originally found the device either lost it, or had it stolen, before Gizmodo paid $5,000 to an unnamed source for the product.

One thing is for certain - this is an ugly story that is unlikely to benefit either party: Apple as seen to be using the police to protect itself from public interest, while Gizmodo embroiled in claims in fraudulent dealing.

And, again, the situation not yet addressed as to how to classify online media, or at which point online reporters can be given the same legal protections as journalists working for mainstream TV and newspaper reporting.

In the meantime, we doubt this issue is anything but over yet - it remains to be seen not simply how the immediate fraud claims are resolved, nor how bloggers are defined in law for journalist protections, but especially whether the entire issue has swayed Apple in the current development process for the iPhone.

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