Posted April 27, 2010 9:24 am by with 9 comments

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In case you haven’t heard there are a few stories flying around about just how shielded bloggers are with regard to sources and protection afforded other journalists under the law. Yesterday we talked about one instance in New Jersey. Today we move cross country to the home of all things tech and watch as Gawker Media’s Gizmodo editor, Jason Chen, becomes the center of a legal and ethical conundrum of sorts.

The New York Times reports

Gawker Media said Monday that computers belonging to one of its editors, Jason Chen, were seized from his home on Friday in an apparent investigation into the sale of a next-generation Apple iPhone. Gawker suggested the action violated California’s shield law for journalists.

The technology blog Gizmodo, which Gawker owns, published articles last week about the phone after buying the device for $5,000 from a person who, according to the site, found it at a bar in California last month.

Found it in a bar. Good one. Did the dog eat your homework too? Sorry, that was my own editorial. Bottom line for the Internet marketing world is just how protected are bloggers, be they independent or corporate, and do the freedoms afforded bloggers as ‘reporters’ allow them to cross lines without repercussions? I find it somewhat amusing how many bloggers won’t call themselves ‘journalists’ but will certainly jump the fence if there is a need for legal protection.

The story of the 4G iPhone may turn into one of Silicon Valley legend and lure but right now it just seems pretty silly. Unfortunately for Chen he is now likely to be a pawn in a chess match that may decide how blogging is done in the future.

Gawker is protecting their guy with the following argument

Gawker’s chief operating officer, Gaby Darbyshire, said in a letter to the authorities on Saturday that shield laws protected Mr. Chen and his computers. She said Gawker expected the immediate return of his property.

“Under both state and federal law, a search warrant may not be validly issued to confiscate the property of a journalist,” Ms. Darbyshire wrote. “Jason is a journalist who works full time for our company,” she continued, adding that he worked 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,” she wrote.

Another Gawker heavyweight weighed in

“Are bloggers journalists? I guess we’ll find out,” Nick Denton, the founder and president of Gawker Media, wrote in an instant message Monday.

You can get Gawker’s entire history of this ‘issue’ here.

Of course a fight like this will be left for the lawyers and the early results seem to favor Gawker’s claims. That is unless the ‘found’ iPhone is determined to be stolen and there can be a connection made to the ‘purchase’ of the phone which Chen did do.

Legal experts said there was little doubt that bloggers qualified. “Of all places, California is probably the most clear that what Gizmodo does and what Jason Chen does is journalism,” said Sam Bayard, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

He said the case could hinge on whether there is an exception in the law involving a journalist committing a crime, “in this case receipt of stolen property.” He said “this seems unlikely based on the plain language of the statute.”

Well, one thing can certainly be said for this whole thing as it relates to Internet marketing. Gawker Media got boatloads (Hey, Carol!) of attention and likely increased site traffic that will make a $5,000 ‘investment’ and some potential legal issues for an employee look like a sweet deal. Call me a cynic but what it maybe, just maybe, that was the plan after all? I’m just sayin’ ………

  • Jeff Allen

    An Apple exec gets a little buzzed and leaves his Iphone at the bar. Someone finds it & it ends up on the internet. Apple makes a big stink and now invades this guys home & seizes his pc’s. WTF!
    What about going after the Apple worker that left it & turn his life upside down.

    Just my 2 cents.

    I’ll never buy one

  • Be prepared for more incidents like this. More and more technology blogs are using underhand ways of obtaining secretaive material such as the new iPhone.

  • tony felt

    I heard this story but I acutally heard that it was in Europe! Imagine that. Urban myth perhaps? Just putting the word out there, if you’re ever in need of a yacht or boat shipper, look up Yacht Exports. They did a wonderful job with me.

  • R.S. Ogden

    This has nothing to do with journalist’s rights or legal search warrants. The action taken by the police/state in this issues is totally with out any legal foundation and a clear indicator of how corporations have more legal rights than individual citizens. “Hello officer, I left my cell phone in a bar and i think i found the person online who sold my phone. Will you please begin a criminal investigation issue and issue a search warrant on the persons involved, so i can get my cell back.

  • apple apple apple, we liked you but now we have second thoughts. Next time we will publish your secrets anonymously without returning your product. And it will be done from china, then we will give it away FREE to makers of apple clone companies. I want to see your faces when clone comes out before your product does.

  • I wondered why this didn’t happen sooner actually. It seemed to me a bit strange, it’s getting close to company espionage where you pay for a companies new tech. Though I continue to be surprised and wonder at why Apple didn’t get the phone when the guy called them about. Of course maybe it didn’t go down that way. Time will tell and it will be interesting how this shakes out in the courts.

  • Seriously?.. urban myth becomes urban legend! Perhaps it’s another way of Apple trying to create publicity stun by inoforming everyone that 4G is on the way shortly while HTC booms in USA with HTC HD2.

    Just my 2 cents…
    .-= Mamu´s last blog ..Movie Preview: Raajneeti – 2010 =-.

  • I hope the world !!