In April 2010, Jason Chen of Gizmodo made shockwaves on-line when he showed his audience a working prototype of the new iPhone 4. The prototype was examined on Gizmodo a few months before it was officially released on the market. It turned out that an Apple employee who was supposed to be testing the product, accidentally left it behind in a bar and someone picked it up and sold it to the Gizmodo writer. Law enforcement officials then raided Chen’s home and pressed charges against him for illegally obtaining the prototype. However, after more than a year of deliberations, the San Mateo district attorney’s office has decided not to press charges against Chen.
Morley Pitt, San Mateo County’s assistant district attorney said Chen’s decision to pay $5000 for the iPhone prototype was not motivated by financial greed, but rather “his claim was that he was undertaking a journalistic investigation.”
However, Pitt said that his office would proceed with misdemeanor “possession of stolen property” and “misappropriation of lost property” charges against two individuals who took the iPhone prototype without proper permission.
Journalists and their working material is usually protected by a variety of federal and state shield laws, which make it difficult for prosecutors to obtain and use their documents and material for criminal prosecutions. Addressing the issue, Pitt said, “We had a conflict between the penal code and the 1st Amendment and California shield laws,” Pitt said. “We felt that the potential Gizmodo defendant [Chen] had a potential 1st Amendment argument — one that we weren’t prepared to address on this particular set of circumstances.”
The case has drawn fire from various sides over the past year. Supporters of Chen said that the case was evidence of the overwhelming power of massive corporations like Apple and their ability to silence journalists. On the other hand, critics argued that this is evidence of a consumer culture that has lost all respect for intellectual property rights of firms that depend on a certain level of secrecy to effectively operate.