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Posted by on Apr 21, 2010 in Science & Technology | 0 comments

Gawker Brazenly, Publicly Flouted the Law

Jeff Bercovici argues persuasively that the Gawker iPhone scoop was clearly theft:

I am somewhat scandalized, even outraged. Put simply, Gawker Media brazenly, publicly flouted the law. It subsidized a crime: the selling of stolen merchandise. Then it published a misleading, whitewashed account of the seller’s actions meant to make it look as though he was not acting with criminal intent. It published this account in order to disguise its own culpability in the matter.

From my own reporting, it’s clear the finder of the phone made only the most perfunctory efforts to return the phone to its owner. The gestures he made after learning the true value of the device — calling the switchboard at a giant corporation and leaving a message, essentially — reek of insincere behind-covering. One gets the strong impression he did the absolute bare minimum necessary in order to be able to claim later that he tried to return the device. He might as well have sent a postcard addressed to “Steve Jobs, Apple Inc., USA.” […]

I understand the moral calculus they used. We all feel intuitively that picking up something that someone else left behind is not as bad as seizing it by force, stealth or deception. But in the eyes of the law, it’s still stealing. And buying stolen goods is a crime. In those rare cases where a journalist commits a crime and receives the benefit of prosecutorial discretion, it’s usually because he can demonstrate there was a compelling public interest at stake. There is no such interest here. The only parties who benefited from Gizmodo’s story are Gawker Media and Apple’s competitors.

I’m not normally one to root for manufacturers over journalists, or for Goliath over David. But what Gawker Media did here was egregious. I doubt Steve Jobs will sue, but if he does, he will have justice on his side.

In a Slate Explainer, Brian Palmer agrees, “There’s no question that the iPhone was obtained unlawfully.” Jack Shafer asks, does the Apple secrecy machine really make people want to buy stuff? Short answer, not really.

Gizmodo and Engadget were both approached by the finder of the “lost” iPhone. Engadget never made an offer. But:

“My hat is off to those guys,” Topolsky told CNET. “I think Gizmodo got a huge scoop here, however they did it. If (Gawker Media CEO) Nick Denton can pay for a story and he’s comfortable with that and they are fine with dealing with the repercussions then this is the story. If you’re going to pay for a story this is the one to pay for.” [Joshua Topolsky, Engadget’s editor in chief, told CNET Tuesday], “We had never been in this situation and were definitely conflicted, definitely questioning what we should do. The whole thing seemed so sleazy. I eventually talked to our lawyers and they cautioned against doing anything with this phone but by that time, we had already decided to just leave it alone.”

The Daily Beast has put up a gallery of the worst things ever left behind. “From the physicist who left H-bomb blueprints on a train to the nude Demi Moore picture on Ashton Kutcher’s lost phone….”

Meanwhile, when Apple changed the terms of its iPhone 4.0 software developer kit license, it effectively blocked Adobe’s move to bring Flash apps to iPhone:

“As developers for the iPhone have learned, if you want to develop for the iPhone you have to be prepared for Apple to reject or restrict your development at any time, and for seemingly any reason,” [Adobe’s principal product manager for the Flash platform, Mike] Chambers said. “The primary goal of Flash has always been to enable cross browser, platform and device development. The cool web game that you build can easily be targeted and deployed to multiple platforms and devices. However, this is the exact opposite of what Apple wants. They want to tie developers down to their platform, and restrict their options to make it difficult for developers to target other platforms.”

Adobe’s hoping to help Google’s Android compete with the iPhone. My contract is up in August. I’ve got ’til then to decide whether or not I will switch to Android. The market sure looks interesting!

Continue the conversation @jwindish #TMVcomments, at my Public Notebook where comments are open, or email me at joe-AT-joewindish-DOT-com.

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