Gizmodo paid $10,000 for “lost” iPhone 4G [pic!]

The Internet is abuzz today with Gizmodo’s hands on preview of what appears to be Apple’s next-gen iPhone. In case you missed the build-up to the story, someone found a cased iPhone on the floor of a bar in Redwood City. From the outside, the device appeared to be an iPhone 3GS, but upon removing the device from its specially designed case, it was clear that this was no ordinary iPhone. Rather, it appeared to be Apple’s next-gen iPhone. Found. In the wild. A solid two months before anyone expected to see pictures of it.

In other words, this was the motherload of all Apple scoops. [via editableapple]

The individual who found the iPhone sent pictures of the device to Engadget, but it was Gizmodo who scored big by actually obtaining the iPhone itself. It’s been reported by in-the-know Apple blogger John Gruber that Apple considered said iPhone “stolen”, and was keen on getting it back.

But with Gizmodo’s report blowing up the Internet today, the cat is out of the bag. At the time of this writing, Gizmodo’s story alone is bordering on 2.5 million page views [Edit: it's now pushing 4 million pageviews as of early Tuesday morning].

Now word is leaking out that Gizmodo paid a cool 10 grand for the iPhone prototype, which all things considered, seems like a bargain given Apple’s typically tight rein on product leaks.

Update: Apple Legal sends letter to Gizmodo asking them to return iPhone 4G

$10,000 has undeniably diverted a ton of eyeballs to Gizmodo’s site, and the surge in web traffic probably has Gizmodo editors jumping for joy. But you have to wonder if Gizmodo, in the grand scheme of things, tarnished their “relationship” with Apple for a short term spike in pageviews.

Think about it - Steve Jobs is probably livid right now, and what are the odds that Gizmodo, going forward, gets invited to Apple’s always popular “special events.” And what are the odds now that Gizmodo will get a review unit of the upcoming iPhone 4G? Though, to be fair, they apparently already have one.

On another note, there has been talk about Apple legal going after Gizmodo, but that doesn’t seem plausible for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the damage has already been done. The pictures and information gleaned from Gizmodo’s hands-on have already been dispersed into the ether of the Internet. If Apple demanded Gimzodo remove its detailed post, it would a) confirm that the device is, in fact, the next-gen iPhone and b) ultimately have no effect whatsoever given that hundreds, if not thousands, of other websites have already copied and pasted the pertinent information.

Second, it’s hard to see how exactly Apple could go after Gizmodo from a legal standpoint. Word is that Gizmodo purchased the device last week, but it’s unclear if Apple was aware of the exchange, and if so, if Apple sent a legal warning to Gizmodo not to publicize the device. But even if Apple did deliver a legal warning, Gizmodo ostensibly didn’t coerce an Apple employee into handing over a top secret prototype. Rather, Giz simply paid top dollar to a guy who found a different looking iPhone on the floor of a bar. From that vantage point, there’s not much illegality involved.

Matt in the comments directs us to this entry on lost/stolen property from Wikipedia:

Property is generally deemed to have been mislaid or misplaced if it is found in a place where the true owner likely did intend to set it, but then simply forgot to pick it up again. For example, a wallet found in a shop lying on a counter near a cash register will likely be deemed misplaced rather than lost. Under common law principles, the finder of a misplaced object has a duty to turn it over to the owner of the premises, on the theory that the true owner is likely to return to that location to search for his misplaced item. If the true owner does not return within a reasonable time (which varies considerably depending on the circumstances), the property becomes that of the owner of the premises

That said, it would seem that Apple’s legal beef lies more so with individual who sold the device than Gizmodo. Either way, going after Giz or the dude who’s now $10,000 richer would attract a wave of bad publicity that Apple would, we would guess, much rather do without.

Update: A comment from Hacker News directs us to this section of the California Penal Code:

One who finds lost property under circumstances which give him knowledge of or means of inquiry as to the true owner, and who appropriates such property to his own use, or to the use of another person not entitled thereto, without first making reasonable and just efforts to find the owner and to restore the property to him, is guilty of theft.

The question, then, is if the legal responsibility of the original “finder” is transferred over to the party who acquires said property. We’re guessing that it does. Also, remember that Gawker was previously served with a cease and desist letter from Apple back in early January for offering $50,000 for pre-release photos or videos of the iPad and $100,000 for actual hands-on time with the device.

And if that weren’t enough to chew on, Gawker managing editor Nick Denton sent out the following tweet earlier this afternoon:

For people who want to know the backstory to Gizmodo’s iPhone exclusive, it’s coming. And it’s a corker.

Update x2: Gizmodo exposes identity of Apple engineer who lost the iPhone at the bar

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