|Close to a decade ago, Apple’s standing in the market fell behind that of Microsoft, Intel, and Dell. Faced with immense pressure from its main competitors, Apple was forced to completely revamp its image, eventually becoming one of the most powerful tech companies in the United States. With its innovative and highly anticipated products like the I-Pod, I-Phone, I-Tunes, and the recent I-Pad, it is no wonder Apple keeps it technological secrets under tight wraps. |
At a bar one night in Redwood, California, 21 year old resident Brian Hogan came across an I-Phone left behind by another patron. Sources say that the phone was given to him by another friend who asked if it belonged to him. Hogan then asked other patrons around him if the phone belonged to any of them. All said no. Through a Facebook application, Hogan was able to locate the owner. A friend of Hogan’s even offered to call Apple in an attempt to return the lost property. His efforts to locate the owner of the I-Phone stopped there.
The next morning, Hogan woke to find that the phone’s service had been cut-off. Inspecting the phone more closely, Hogan realized that the I-Phone in his possession had two cameras on both front and back, a feature current I-Phones on the market do not have. Having come across this startling and potentially profitable discovery, Hogan shopped the phone around to bidders. Getting hold of the device, Engadget, a technology blog, posted pictures of the phone on its website. With rumors swirling about the origins of this mysterious phone, Gizmodo, one of Engadget’s leading competitors, then bought the device from Hogan for $5,000. Upon which, the company posted more pictures and specifications online.
With one of Gizmodo’s posts receiving 3.7 million hits, word began to spread about this supposed next-generation I-Phone, eventually reaching the upper tiers of Apple management. On April 19, Brian Lam, the editorial director of Gizmodo, received a formal request from Bruce Sewell, Senior Vice-President and General Counsel of Apple asking for the return of the I-Phone. Gizmodo was more than happy to comply, citing that they did not realize the device was stolen property upon purchasing it.
Local officials are taking this breach of technology seriously. Shortly after Gizmodo returned the phone, the Santa Clara County Police Department launched a full-investigation of the case. On April 26, officials obtained a warrant to search Jason Chen’s home, editor of Gizmodo. According to Chen, he and his wife arrived back at their residence to find police officers rifling through their things in search of evidence for a possible criminal prosecution. Some speculate that the search may have been prompted by Apple, Inc.
The question now is whether Brian Hogan and Gizmodo have anything to worry about.
The concept of “finders keepers” comes from 12th century England in which treasure found on land, regardless of the owner or collector, belonged exclusively to the King. Once America gained independence from England, rightful ownership of “treasure” was accorded to the collector. Given certain time limits and a reasonable attempt to find the original owner, property claimed by a collector is usually his or hers to keep. However, some modern state laws have changed the finder’s rule.
For example, under California statute, finders are required to notify the true owner, if known (or if the finder has any idea of who the owner might be). If not, law requires the delivery of property valued at more than $100 to a sheriff. Failure to do so could be classified as theft. Stealing property valued at over $400 is considered grand theft, which can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony carrying a maximum sentence of one year in a county jail and 16 months in a state prison, respectively. Buying stolen property is also considered a crime in the state of California and carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison.
To further complicate the legal issues of this case, experts are now claiming that the search warrant issued to raid Jason Chen’s house was a direct violation of a federal law known as the Privacy Protection Act that safeguards journalists from such searches. A hearing was scheduled for Friday, May 14th in regards to reopening the documents of the search warrant; this could shed light on whether or not officials followed correct protocol.
According to news sources, Brian Hogan and his family have moved to a temporary residence to stave off the impending media onslaught. Some even speculate that the legalities that have arisen in connection with the search of Jason Chen’s home might very well overshadow the possible legal plight of Brian Hogan. And as for Gray Powell, the Apple engineer who had one too many drinks at the bar and forgot his cell phone, he is still employed.
Probably the most interesting aspect of this case is the attention it has garnered from the public, so much so that even Jon Stewart, famed comedian, political satirist, and host of the Daily Show, stepped forward to decry Apple’s tactics, telling Steve Jobs to “chill, baby”.
As more details begin to emerge, it will be interesting to see what course of action all involved parties decide to take. It may well be “finders weepers” in this case.