Could Gizmodo Face iPhone Leak Charges?

Police in California are investigating Gizmodo’s purchase of an apparent iPhone prototype, according to reports. CNET.com said it has spoken to “a law enforcement official” who said that an investigation was being carried out to see whether there is enough evidence to press criminal charges.

Gizmodo.com, which obtained a secret iPhone prototype after it was left behind at a bar by an Apple Inc. engineer last month, said it hasn’t been contacted by police investigating the case. Image: Apple

Police in California are investigating Gizmodo’s purchase of an apparent iPhone prototype, according to CNET. CNET.com said it has spoken to “a law enforcement official” who said that an investigation was being carried out to see whether there is enough evidence to press criminal charges , according to the Daily Telegraph (UK).

Gizmodo, a gadget blog owned by Gawker Media, says it paid $5,000 for the device, which was left in a bar by an Apple engineer and appears to be a prototype for the next generation iPhone. Gizmodo has been posting articles and videos about the phone since Monday but has now returned the phone to Apple.

Many technology experts suggested that Apple could sue over the missing device. I thought that was unlikely, since Apple would have nothing to gain from prolonging the attention on the device. However, it is not up to Apple to press criminal charges.

Stephen Wagstaffe, chief deputy district attorney for San Mateo County, which has jurisdiction over Redwood City, declined to say whether there is an investigation over the iPhone. “If there is a case that is investigated and able to be submitted for prosecution, it will be handled by this office,” Wagstaffe said in an interview today.

Gizmodo wrote about the iPhone prototype after disassembling it. The site said it wasn’t certain the phone was legitimate until receiving the letter from Apple lawyer Bruce Sewell on April 19. The letter requested the return of “a device that belongs to Apple.” Gizmodo said it returned the prototype to the company that same day.

Bloomberg quotes Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, said: “The law of theft isn’t ‘finders, keepers.’ If you know that something has just been mislaid, you can take it and return it, but you can’t take it and keep it, or sell it.” [via Daily Telegraph (UK), CNET and Bloomberg]

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