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iPhone, Gizmodo, and moral clarity about crime

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Under the direction of its editor, Jason Chen, Gizmodo then posted photos and videos of the device on its Web page. During the two weeks since it posted its first of several articles about the phone, the site has attracted more than 4 million hits – a bonanza for a website previously unknown to the uninitiated.

In terms of the legalities, this is pretty clear.

By making an admittedly weak effort to return the iPhone to Apple, Hogan – in the eyes of the law – committed theft. And Gizmodo committed another crime when it bought property it had good reason to believe was illicitly obtained.

It’s no surprise that the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office has been treating the case that way, conducting a search of Mr. Chen’s house, and, reportedly with the urging of Apple, looking into the possibility of criminal charges.

Yet the response from various commentators has been anything but clear-cut. The Electronic Frontier Foundation said that San Mateo police went “too far” in executing a warrant on Chen’s house. The New York Times’s media columnist, David Carr, wrote that Apple has been “churlish” in pressing the police to pursue the case. Newsweek, quoting a source, said that Apple’s brand was likely to suffer “backlash” as a result of its actions. Even Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show,” who’s usually right, has scolded Apple’s response as being “out of control.”

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