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iPhone 4 prototype journo off the hook

Curtain comes down on Der Ring des Gizmodophonelungen

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The saga of the Gizmodophone – the iPhone 4 prototype found in a bar and exposed on the web – is nearing its end: prosecutors have decided that Gizmodo's Jason Chen won't be charged with wrongdoing in the long-running phone follies.

"The difficulty we faced is that Mr. Chen and Gizmodo were primarily, in their view, engaged in a journalistic endeavor to conduct an investigation into the phone and type of phone it was and they were protected by the shield law," San Mateo County assistant district attorney Morley Pitt told the Associated Press.

For those of you who were trekking through Tierra del Fuego last spring and missed the entire imbroglio, here's a mercifully abbreviated summary:

  • Apple engineer Gray Powell leaves a prototype iPhone 4, disguised in an iPhone 3GS case, in Gourmet Haus Staudt, a beer garden 20 miles north of Apple's Cupertino headquarters.
  • Photos of the prototype soon appear on Engadget, and the phone itself is bagged by Gizmodo from one Brian Hogan for a reported $5,000.
  • Apple contacts Gizmodo and asks that the phone be returned, essentially verifying that it is, indeed, an iPhone 4 prototype.
  • A media frenzy erupts over the outed iPhone 4, which late-night talk show host David Letterman mocks with "Top Ten Excuses of the Guy Who Lost the iPhone Prototype".
  • Gizmodo editor Jason Cheng's home is invaded by cops armed with a search warrant, who take away a laundry list of computer equipment as evidence.
  • Gizmodo's lawyer argues that the warrant should be judged invalid, claiming protection under a provision of the California penal code that protects journalists.
  • A wealth of excruciating detail about the caper is uncovered, including that Apple CEO Steve Jobs personally contacted Gizmodo, seeking the protoype's return, and that phone-finder Hogan, when friends argued that he'd ruin phone-loser Powell's career if he sold the phone, said "Sucks for him. He lost the phone. Shouldn't have lost the phone."
  • The San Mateo judge allows a court-appointed agent to begin searching Chen's equipment for evidence of possible wrongdoing.
  • The district attorney ask the court to withdraw the warrant used to search Chen's home. His request is granted, and Chen gets his equipment back.

And that's where the matter lay until this Wednesday, when assistant district attorney Pitt decided that enough was enough.

"We concluded it is a very gray area, they do have a potential claim and this was not the case with which we were going to push the envelope," he said.

Chen's lawyer expressed relief. "We feel there was not a crime to begin with and still believe that, and are pleased the DA's office has an appropriate respect for the First Amendment," he said

Hogan, however, is not yet off the hook. Prosecuters have filed misdemeanor charges against him and an accomplice, the wonderfully named Sage Wallower.

Hogan and Wallower were both charged with misappropriation of lost property; Wallower was also charged with possession of stolen property. They both could receive a maximum of a year in the county slammer, plus fines and probation.

Sucks to be them. ®

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