iJournalism or iReceiving stolen goods? (Or something iElse?)

The lather over Gizmodo’s exposure of the new iPhone 4 has ignited some debate over whether the techno-geek blog went too far in buying a possibly lost and/or stolen iPhone prototype for their exclusive.  Joe Wilcox does a pretty good job summarizing how Gizmodo’s scoop broke the law:

California’s “Uniform Trade Secrets Act” is unambiguous, partly defining “trade secret” as “information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process.” The Act uses several definitions of “misappropriation,” of a trade secret with one being: “Acquisition of a trade secret of another by a person who knows or has reason to know that the trade secret was acquired by improper means.”

An unreleased phone accidentally left in a bar and sold to Gizmodo surely qualifies as acquisition “by improper means.” Proper means would be purchase of the device from Apple, following its public release.

Wilcox also mentions the recourse Apple would have if they chose to pursue it.  At this point, it doesn’t look like Apple is going to make a move – and from that fact follows the point which makes the whole discussion moot: Apple doesn’t want Gizmodo to take down their “exclusive look” at the iPhone – not even the post where the phone gets dissected it like a science class frog – ostensibly, the party that tips Apple’s hand the most to industry competitors.

Of course Apple wants the pictures up on the internet, and of course they want everyone talking about the brand new secret product.  Consider that Apple announced the existence of the iPad months before the official release date; this staged rollout allowed Apple to break into two news cycles.

Not to play conspiracy theorist, but Apple could benefits from three rounds of coverage – the current stories about the leak, stories about the announcement, and finally the release (complete with the requisite long lines around the block early in the morning at an Apple store near you).  Is it far-fetched to think Apple would have left this “lost” phone in plain view as a brilliant guerrilla marketing move?  Then again, maybe Apple wouldn’t have any security systems in place that would prevent an engineer from taking a super-secret prototype out of a lab and into a bar.  Apple may not have purposefully leaked the iPhone 4, but they clearly aren’t crying about it now.

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