I am not a lawyer and I do not have all the facts about the stolen iPhone, but I’m not going to let that stop me from passing judgement on this case.
As you all know, Gawker Media which publishes the gadget blog Gizmodo.com, recently bought a lost iPhone prototype for $5,000. The police have started an investigation into the case, which so far has included a raid on Gizmodo blogger Jason Chen’s home resulting in the confiscation of his computers. Gawker Media is claiming that Jason is protected under the journalist shield laws and everyone is debating exactly the wrong issue: the legal ones.
Now, I know Nick Denton very well and consider him a friend. We were vicious competitors when my company Weblogs Inc battled his Gawker Media–a battle that resulted in our gadget site Engadget decimating Gizmodo in the rankings for years. After I sold the company to AOL Denton’s Gizmodo was able to quickly catch up and surpass Engadget–something I wold have never allowed. But I digress…
Bottom line: I think Nick is a publishing genius and I’ve enjoyed our stolen moments, and the fine meals we’ve shared in Aspen, Los Angeles and New York over the last few years.
Of course, I’m saying all of those nice things about Nick because I’m about to trash him.
The fact that we’re even debating a very simple case like this shows exactly how entitled and misguided our world has become. This is all very simple, so let’s see if we can sum it up in 10 points or less and get back to work shall we?
1. You can not knowingly traffic in stolen or “found” goods. It is unethical and illegal. When you find a phone in a bar you give it to the bartender. You do not try and sell it for 10x it’s value. If you do, you are a scumbag and a criminal.
2. If someone offers you a pile of cash for an item you found, and that you know is not yours, than you are a thief. A criminal. That’s it–there is no further discussion.
3. If you disagree with #2, then let me take your little brain through a bigger and illuminating example (That’s what we do with dumb people–or children–when they are confused: you make something bigger so they can understand it!).
You see a silver Mercedes parked in front of your house. There are keys in it. You get in the car and see that it has a bunch of new features that the standard Mercedes you drive lacks. Oh, and it belongs to someone named Dieter Zetsche. You take the car and drive it home, then call automotive magazines and offer to sell this prototype you found, and know the owner of, for 10x the street value of the car (say, $1M). What are you now? Yes, a criminal! Whether the item is worth $600 or $60,000 is not relevant.
4. If you offer to pay someone for stolen goods you are, well, a criminal (or, if you prefer, a fence, as Loren Feldman pointed out in his excellent video on the subject (http://bit.ly/aouSzB). A fence is someone who buys stolen goods for resale later. In this case the later resale is page views and more importantly inbound links, which considering the SEO value makes the $5,000 at a heck of a bargin. Gizmodo and Gawker have made $10M worth of media on this–literally. If you even could buy the air time on TV, radio and the print space they’ve gotten it would cost tens of millions of dollars. Nick Denton is a genius who knows this–and that is why he did this.
5. I don’t know Jason Chen, but based on his behaviour he is either really stupid or naive. Jason, you got some really bad legal advice from Nick Denton when he told you that there was nothing to worry about. Nick Denton’s publishing model has always been to hire young kids and get them to do stupid things on his behalf for the chance at a low paying job and a nice resume building gig. Getting a blogger to traffick in stolen goods is his greatest accomplishment to date, but on a regular basis he gets kids to attack and try to destroy people on his behest on a regular basis–all in the name of traffic (and sometimes his own personal politics and sense of justice). Sometimes these people deserve it and sometimes the facts are correct. Many times they don’t and they’re not.
6. Using the journalist shield laws to traffic in known stolen goods is really lame. Those laws were setup to protect journalists doing really important work–not for profiteering. If Denton is allowed to abuse these laws then get ready for a free-for-all as TMZ journalists start breaking into Nick Denton’s SoHo loft to raid his collection of home made, HD quality sex tapes. Note: I don’t know that Denton has a collection of HD quality sex tapes–but I don’t know that he doesn’t! See what I did right there by saying “I don’t know, but I don’t not know?” That’s called CYA journalism right there baby… do whatever the f- you want!!! Yeah bitches!!! Free for all journalism FTW!
7. The police raiding a bloggers house over a phone that is coming out in six weeks is, on the surface, equally lame. Do the police really need to raid his home when he is not there? Can’t you simply subpoena his records? Then again, if we blow this up to the stolen Mercedes example, or perhaps a stolen billion-dollar cancer drug being worked on by a pharmaceutical company, would it seem as extreme? Anyway, it’s lame. These cops are from a sleepy town and this is their Columbo moment, so I guess we have to let them have it. But breaking a blogger’s door down? Really? Come on.
8. Steve Jobs is responsible for all this. He created an environment where consumers and bloggers are on tilt, desperatly trying to get a few crumbs of information about his amazing new products. Jobs will go down in history as the greatest marketer of all time.
9. If you are a journalist and you found the phone, played with it and wrote a story about the experience before giving it back to Apple that would be OK. On an ethical basis you could debate the issue of taking the high road and returning it without covering the details of it, but that’s a personal style issue in my mind. You find something and write about the experience there is no issue. That is NOT what happened here.
10. If this was a case of buying stolen or found prison photos from Abu Ghraib, and there was a societal benefit to the release of those photos, people would be forgiven. In fact, if there were photos of Abu Ghraib in someone’s private residence or a company and a journalist broke in to get those photos society might actually forgive them. In this case, you don’t get any wiggle room because getting society the details of the iPhone’s upcoming features–that were in Nokia phones from two years ago–does nothing to help society or cure some injustice. If you think Gawker solved some huge injustice here you need your head examined.
a) Gawker/Nick Denton = guilty
b) Jason Chen = guilty (of being gullible)
c) iPhone seller = guilty
d) Using Shield Law defence = lame
e) Gestapo Cops = very lame
Bottom line: What is wrong with the world that we’re obsessed with the lame features in the next iPhone–“OMG!!! it’s got a camera on the front and the back!!!”–when we’re still occupying two countries in the Middle East, unemployment is cresting at known civil unrest levels and Goldman Sachs raped and pillaged our Union, then GOT BAILED OUT for doing so with the help of dopey President Obama whose trusted advisors are–wait for it–Goldman alumni!
Rome is burning while Denton and Jobs are running the Colosseum.
panem et circenses
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Jason McCabe Calacanis
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Editor’s Note: Jason’s opinions and conclusions are his own, not SAI’s.
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