It started as a fun story for gadget enthusiasts — how technology site Gizmodo purchased, and subsequent reported on, a "stolen" Apple iPhone 4G prototype — but after police raided the home of the Gizmodo blogger who wrote the original post, it's become a high-stakes legal saga with curious consequences for all involved, including Apple. (Watch an NBC report about the iPhone leak's impact on Apple.) Here's how "Gizmodo-gate" has both helped and hurt the key players:
GAWKER MEDIA, Parent company of Gizmodo
Upside: Its revelatory iPhone 4G stories were both a traffic and publicity triumph — attracting more than 10 million visitors to Gizmodo.com and worldwide media attention.
Downside: Gawker could face felony charges related to its $5,000 purchase of iPhone prototype (which may have been "stolen" property under CA law); also, the company has been widely criticized for stooping to "check-book journalism" to get a scoop.
JASON CHEN, Gizmodo reporter/editor who broke the iPhone 4G story
Upside: Chen broke the biggest technology news story in recent memory; media watchers were buzzing that he might get the top job at Gizmodo, one of the most popular blogs on the internet.
Downside: He could face felony charges — and up to a year in prison — related to his role in the iPhone purchase.
APPLE, Maker of the iPhone
Upside: The company received a boatload of free publicity for their upcoming iPhone 4G release.
Downside: Fairly or not, the affair has reinforced the perception that CEO Steve Jobs is "secretive," "controlling," "paranoid," and "vengeful"; if a lowly blogger goes to jail, that might not look good for the tech giant that requested the investigation.
GRAY POWELL, Apple engineer who lost the iPhone prototype while drinking at a German beer garden
Upside: Against all odds, Powell so far seems to have kept his job; Lufthansa offered him a free trip to Germany to indulge his "passion for German beer and culture"; and he's suddenly a "cult hero."
Downside: He's also now notorious for committing the biggest blunder in Apple history (not counting the decision to greenlight the Newton).
BRIAN J. HOGAN: Sold Powell's iPhone to Gawker Media
Upside: Hogan is $5,000 richer (temporarily, at least); he hasn't yet been charged with a crime.
Downside: Could face felony charges for selling stolen property; unlikely to ever be hired by Apple.
[UPDATE: Wired has identified the seller of the iPhone prototype: 21-year-old Brian J. Hogan of Redwood City, CA]