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Is Gawker's "Apple Tablet Scavenger Hunt" Illegal? 172

Posted by timothy
from the best-publicity-can't-be-bought dept.
theodp writes "Not too surprisingly, Apple was not amused by Valleywag's announcement of an Apple Tablet Scavenger Hunt, which offered cash prizes ranging from 10K-100K for info about the much-anticipated new Apple device. The promo prompted a threatening cease-and-desist letter from Apple's lawyers, which Valleywag deemed the most concrete evidence yet that there may indeed be a tablet in the works. But is the Scavenger Hunt really illegal, as the attorney claimed? The jury's still out, but Slate concludes Apple's got a pretty good case, although it notes that Valleywag's unconventional Scavenger Hunt 'stunt' may not really be all that different from 'reporting' practiced by mainstream publications like the WSJ."
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Is Gawker's "Apple Tablet Scavenger Hunt" Illegal?

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  • by erroneus (253617) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @03:48PM (#30800440) Homepage

    The whole idea behind this question is to show that offering to pay someone to do something illegal is, in itself, illegal. Now are they asking someone to do something illegal? That is another question. In order to deliver the information they seek, is the party required to do something illegal? Surely it may be something where a civil law suit may result, but is such law limited to criminal acts?

    • The whole idea behind this question is to show that offering to pay someone to do something illegal is, in itself, illegal

          No it isn't. There is absolutely nothing illegal about talking about a commercial product before release. It's entirely a civil matter.

                Brett

      • by Otterley (29945)

        Breaking a civil law is still illegal. (Put differently, you don't have to commit a criminal act for something to be illegal.)

        • I'm not certain that's correct. Can you cite a source?

          If you breach an enforceable contract, the party with whom you had the contract may be entitled to some redress, but I don't think that breach of contract is considered "illegal"; it is merely "breach of contract".

          Now, it may be that certain types of contract breaches could successfully be termed by a plaintiff as fraud, and there are specific statutes surrounding fraud which define what sorts of behavior are legal and which are not. But breaking
          • by Otterley (29945)

            The question of whether something is illegal/unlawful is a separate one from what the remedy is for the breach.

            • by rtb61 (674572)

              Of course freedom of speech gets in there as well and constitutions take precedence over criminal laws and of course criminal laws takes precedence of civil contracts. In point of fact the only real laws that apply in the civil arena, is contractual law and the most important part there is, it is strictly illegal to write a clause into a contract that infringes criminal law and that clause can and often does invalidate the entire contract. So you can't really sue someone for damages but you can avoid payin

    • by txoof (553270)

      Doesn't the onus to follow the law fall on the person providing the information? If a person were to say break into Apple and snap pictures and then provide the pictures to Gawker, wouldn't they be the party to prosecuted, not Gawker? From reading the Slate article [slate.com] it appears that Gawker might be protected if they are not actively soliciting people to break the law and reveal trade secrets. If an individual shows up at their office with the product and assures the editors that they have the right to sha

      • by maxume (22995) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @04:18PM (#30800736)

        This is a clause from Gawkers contest rules:

        By submitting any photo or information to Gawker Media, you hereby represent and warrant that the submitted photo or information does not and shall not infringe on any copyright, any rights of privacy or publicity of any person, or any other right of any third party, and you have the right to grant any and all rights and licenses granted to Gawker Media herein, including but not limited to all necessary rights under copyright, free and clear of any claims or encumbrances;

        That makes it pretty clear that they don't expect people to share information illegally.

        I guess everyone involved gets some publicity though.

        • This is a clause from Gawkers contest rules:

          By submitting any photo or information to Gawker Media, you hereby represent and warrant that the submitted photo or information does not and shall not infringe on any copyright, any rights of privacy or publicity of any person, or any other right of any third party, and you have the right to grant any and all rights and licenses granted to Gawker Media herein, including but not limited to all necessary rights under copyright, free and clear of any claims or encumbrances;

          That makes it pretty clear that they don't expect people to share information illegally.

          I guess everyone involved gets some publicity though.

          No, it doesn't. The disclaimer only covers copyright violations. There are plenty of laws you can break besides copyright law.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by maxume (22995)

            Are you sure?

            I would point you at the part where it says "on any copyright, any rights of privacy or publicity of any person, or any other right of any third party" and then to the part right after that where it says "you have the right to grant any and all rights and licenses granted to Gawker Media herein, including but not limited to all necessary rights under copyright, free and clear of any claims or encumbrances", which is pretty clearly not limited to copyright.

            Given that I quoted the last half of it

    • by rliden (1473185)

      I don't think this has anything to do with showing illegalities. Apple loves this sort of attention and the legal threat is their standard procedure. If they hadn't made legal motions against this I think there would have been many more people wondering what they're up to. The C&Ds and legal motions is Apple's way of generating even more publicity via the Streisand Effect.

      I always wonder if these events are just astroturfing at it's finest.

      • That pretty much sums it up -- They did it because it was expected. It would have caused more confusion (especially for everyone who's examining Apple's actions with a microscope) if they *hadn't* taken legal action. Whether or not it's illegal is immaterial.
        Action: Somebody does something that Apple doesn't like; Reaction: Apple sues them. If it's not illegal, the court will throw it out, but by then the "act of suing" will have already taken place. This serves both to promote the notion that "thou shal
    • by v1 (525388)

      offering to pay someone to do something illegal is, in itself, illegal.

      I think something has been overlooked here... the scavenger hunt does NOT suggest doing anything illegal. It actually has legitimate basis if you look at it from another admittedly fairly unlikely angle.

      Apple's had enough experience in the NDA arena that I think we can expect nearly flawless coverage. But there remains the possibility that someone, somewhere, was allowed access within cameraphone range of an iSlate without being NDA'd

      • by vlm (69642)

        But there remains the possibility that someone, somewhere, was allowed access within cameraphone range of an iSlate without being NDA'd.

        No need for a cameraphone, although the irony of using an Apple iPhone to spy on the iSlate would be hilarious. All you need to do is be within security camera range... And thanks to a blind love of 1984 style Big Brother, that is everywhere, right?

        • It probably wouldn't be allowed in facilities where the security cameras weren't owned by Apple, and watched by thoroughly NDA'd employees.
          I don't think that Apple is the type of company that allows its dev teams to take their work home with them, or anyone to let even a mock-up device leave their facility until it's ready. Though arguably the closer the launch date, the more likely something along those lines would occur, but it'd be days before the launch, and at that point a blurry image would probably
    • by icebike (68054)

      Nothing was said or suggested about paying someone to do something illegal.

      Follow the first link and see Exactly what it offered.

      If Apple is bold enough to bring a "secret" device out in public and photos are obtained its their own damn fault. In this country trade secrets are only protected as long as you keep it secret. Bring it out in public, or allow someone to take pictures, and all protection is lost.

      I think the lawyer opened himself up for a bar inquiry by sending a threatening letter before the fa

    • Even if the entire offer was a Joke, the courts could consider the offering of money as an inducement to violate trade secrets, thus giving the Go Ahead to the pursuit of a major lawsuit. Anyone who actually accepts the money and provides what has been requested, then opens them up to a criminal investigation of Industrial Espionage. "Jonny Menomic" was based upon the entire precept of Industrial Espionage wasn't it?

    • by hey! (33014)

      But that's not what is at issue here.

      What is at issue is whether a private entity has a right to control information about itself, aside from what it must disclose to meet its legal obligations (e.g. in SEC filings).

      To a first approximation, the way the law in the US works with respect to private secrets is once you let them out of the bag, they aren't secrets any longer. That embarrassing purchase you made on Amazon? They can tell the world all about it. In fact, you have to assume to *do*, they just do i

  • by mark-t (151149) <`markt' `at' `lynx.bc.ca'> on Sunday January 17, 2010 @03:48PM (#30800446) Journal
    ""We encourage you to stay within the bounds of the law", they say. The problem, I think, is that "encourage" isn't enough.

    If they had actually _required_ that submissions be obtained within the bounds of the law, there's nothing Apple could have remotely done to them about this, even if they don't happen to like it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Otterley (29945)

      I'm not even sure that matters. It's like saying "go rob a bank, but make sure you do it legally."

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by mgblst (80109)

        You mean you want me to become a CEO of a bank? Surely that is illegal yet?

    • by Rich0 (548339) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @04:06PM (#30800590) Homepage

      Yup, if they're smart they'd have just put a checkbox on the submission form:

      "By checking this box you declare that you are not barred by law from sharing this photo."

      If they later get complaints to the contrary they can of course take the photo back down (after taking the proper time to investigate the complaint and ensure that it is legitimate). After all, how could they tell that the photo was posted illegally?

      • by txoof (553270)

        If they later get complaints to the contrary they can of course take the photo back down (after taking the proper time to investigate the complaint and ensure that it is legitimate). After all, how could they tell that the photo was posted illegally?

        By "after taking the proper time to investigate" do you mean giving everyone, their brother, sister, cat, dog and grandma a chance to mirror it, convert it into art and write it into poetry [loyalty.org] to allow ensure that it's protected under Amendment 1?

        • by Dahamma (304068)

          Rumor is that Apple is going to announce it anyway in about 10 days, so it's not like anyone (besides Apple and Gawker, possibly) will give a shit about all this after that, anyway.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mysidia (191772)

      I think they don't encourage [gawker.com], they advise.

      If you read between the lines, it seems like they encourage doing the opposite of what they advise...

      Apple, of course, has plenty of good lawyers like Michael Spillner, so we reiterate our advice "to stay within the bounds of the law." And also: use anonymous email addresses! We can't tell Apple who you are if we don't know who you are.

    • Its impossible to say though what is within the bounds of the law. For example, if someone gave you the specs of a new graphics card how do you know if it was under an NDA or not? So either way, it wouldn't work.
  • controlled leak (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fran6gagne (1467469)
    Now that their controlled leaks (reference [slashdot.org]) has created too much hype, Apple is leaking in their pants and fear that the thing will go too far. If would be Apple, I would say Good luck to Gawker and thanks for all the free publicity.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by contrapunctus (907549)
      maybe apple is going for a controlled streisand effect?
    • by JackDW (904211)

      No, this article is still serving their agenda. All publicity is good. Last week's Apple publicity was about how Apple masterminds controlled leaks. This week's Apple publicity is about how Apple stops leaks. It's irrelevant what the news says, because the key concept is "Apple is doing something".

      Sometimes people say "I'm not buying any Apple products in protest against their consistently unethical behaviour". But with a few very rare exceptions, those people were never Apple customers anyway. In a very

  • I'll claim the prize (Score:2, Informative)

    by selven (1556643)

    The Apple tablet will feature a 9.5'' by 7.5'' display using a new version of E-Ink(TM) technology through which the tablet will display color while having the display consume no power unless something changes. There will be an integrated and optimized sleep mode which the tablet can fall into while maintaining a color picture, and this mode takes a mere 135 ms to get out of, so even applications like slideshows will use it. The processor has multiple power modes, allowing it to go between 500 MHz and 3.7 G

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by capnkr (1153623)
      Terms of the 'bounty' payout state that they will not pay until *after* they have seen the real thing (if, yawn, it exists...) after release by Apple, in order to be sure that what the claimant shows is indeed a real Apple tablet.

      Me, I have no idea why a short-term preview of some computer hardware could be worth so much money. Seems ridiculous, and overly fanboi-ish/hyped...

    • by mark-t (151149)
      The prize is for a photo.... and although a picture is worth a thousand words, your description only contains 161 words, and so would not be eligible.
    • I don't think it is. It's not even a tablet, it's a netbook. I will explain why.

      First, tablets are a niche, and the iPod touch fills in a lot of that niche. Secondly, the new device is expected to fill in between the ipods and the laptops, but a tablet would likely be more expensive than the laptop (unless Apple has some seriously revolutionary technology that none of us have heard of). Third, there is a huge obvious market for an Apple netbook (have you ever met anyone who thought of getting an Apple
      • Finally, I'm going to say once again, tablets just aren't that useful compared to laptops with keyboards.

        A lot of the rumors point less to a generalized tablet and more to something like a super-high-end Kindle. Imagine a sleeker version of the Kindle DX with a hybrid e-paper LCD screen capable of displaying web pages or movies in full color, including a multitouch screen and a modified iPhone OS.

        Still rumor at this point, but it makes a little more sense than the idea of marketing it as a low-end netbook in tablet form at a $1000 price point.

        • And to extend Itunes to carry books. It makes sense.
          • Yup. They're already selling audio books. It's not a stretch at all.

            I just have to wonder, at what point do they rebrand the iTunes Music Store? I guess they've already dropped the "Music" part of the name in most places, but "iTunes" hardly seems fitting anymore for the name of the store or the application itself. The store sells movies, TV shows, and software in addition to "tunes".

      • Steve Jobs hates netbooks, they aren't going to be releasing a netbook under his watch. The MacBook Air is the closest thing you're ever going to see to a netbook from Apple.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by phantomfive (622387)
          Why does Steve Jobs hate netbooks? This article [gizmodo.com] seems to indicate he is open to the idea.
        • by mdwh2 (535323)

          Ah yes, the Air. I remember how the Macbook Air was loved and praised here as Yet Another Apple First here on Slashdot, on the grounds that it was a mm smaller than the smallest laptop. Then they promptly went very quiet, as netbooks appeared on the market, offering much smaller devices at about 10% of the price, and we never heard about the Air again...

    • by mjwx (966435)

      The Apple tablet will feature a 9.5'' by 7.5'' display using a new version of E-Ink(TM) technology through which the tablet will display color while having the display consume no power unless something changes. There will be an integrated and optimized sleep mode which the tablet can fall into while maintaining a color picture, and this mode takes a mere 135 ms to get out of, so even applications like slideshows will use it. The processor has multiple power modes, allowing it to go between 500 MHz and 3.7 G

  • Ooh, Apple is building some next generation super-secret technology and even speaking about it will get you lawyered into oblivion. They're just artificially creating marketing hype.

  • by thephydes (727739) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @04:09PM (#30800634)
    .... to car magazines paying a bounty for pix of yet to be released models?
    • Public View (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SuperKendall (25149) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @05:27PM (#30801368)

      If the contest were to get images of the tablet in public, it too would be legal. But when would that happen? Realistically, never.

      Cars however to be well tested, have to be driven on real roads - and so are out in public often enough that people can get perfectly legal spy shots (though the cars usually have some kind of misleading or obscuring trim).

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Sir_Lewk (967686)

        How does the practicality of getting legal pictures of the device have anything to do with it? If someone that isn't NDA'd gets a picture of a car, it's fair game. If someone who isn't NDA'd gets a picture of this tablet thing, then it's fair game. Legal action against the contest organizers just because it will be hard or impossible to actually collect on the prize is stupid, and missing the point.

        • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

          I'm genuinely curious as to what I'm apparently missing here? Would someone care to actually explain, or is my crime just doubting the Church of Jobs?

  • IANAL but this could be considered "Corporate Espionage [google.com]" which could be illegal because depending on how you look at it the fact they are offering cash for trade secrets, corporate secrets and otherwise proprietary information may be considered bribery (although bribery is rarely made public like this)
  • I'd wager it's illegal - the "prize" is really just an open bounty on industrial espionage. Not sure, but that sounds pretty illegal to me. This isn't a scavenger hunt for "an apple, a blue dress, and page 297 from the phone book". This is the hunt for corporate secrets. Pretty clear cut to me and I'd image that high priced lawyers can make it even more clear cut than I can.
  • While Apple may be keeping it under wraps, it is still conceivable that Apple may expose someone to the tablet without making them sign an NDA. A preemptive lawsuit ASSUMES that everyone that knows about the tablet is under NDA, but you can never make that assumption.

    • by Xuranova (160813)

      You don't have to assume that since Apple's lawyer pretty much said anybody you could get some information worth anything is under an NDA and breaking it. Let's assume there exists a list somewhere of everyone who is SUPPOSED to have seen it and in turn is under an NDA. If you get useful information from someone who isn't on that list, I have no doubt Apple will sue that person to find out who on that list they got it from and go after them. If by some chance, the person the source got it from wasn't on t

      • Doesn't matter what their lawyer said. It is still possible and conceivable. Hell, it could happen due to forgetting to give someone the right paperwork. Or any other possible scenario, really. It doesn't really matter what Apple says.

        • Doesn't matter what their lawyer said. It is still possible and conceivable. Hell, it could happen due to forgetting to give someone the right paperwork. Or any other possible scenario, really. It doesn't really matter what Apple says.

          You're right that it's possible. Given Apple's security policies, though, it's extremely unlikely.

          I once worked for a company that contracted with Apple to tend Macintosh retail displays at Circuit City, Sears and other retailers. I had absolutely no access to advance, proprietary information or trade secrets but I still had to sign an Apple NDA. I suspect that anyone who visits 1 Infinite Loop has to sign one before they are even allowed to leave the lobby and I'd be very, very surprised if any of the prot

  • What NDA? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sephr (1356341)
    If this scavenger hunt is illegal, it would also be illegal for me to offer $10k to anyone who brings me the top-secret Microsoft Phone. For it to be illegal, Apple has to admit that there are specific NDAs stopping their employees from saying anything about their tablet. Without official confirmation of a specific NDA, there's no reason this should be illegal. I don't know that there could be NDAs for the Microsoft Phone, so why should it be illegal to offer a reward for it?
    • by Xuranova (160813)

      Is that like saying Coca Cola couldn't sue you for offering cash for (either in its entirety or a part of) their secret coke recipe unless they are willing to show you an NDA that has their coke recipe?

      I don't see their legal team agreeing with you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by yabos (719499)
      When you go to work for Apple and just about every other company in existence, you sign an NDA. There might not be any specific tablet NDA, it's just covered under the general one you sign saying you won't release trade secrets before the company does.
    • by jo_ham (604554)

      What if it does exist but is nowhere near ready?

      Would images of this device hurt potentially Apple's sales of laptops if people see leaked shots of something that may or may not be ready for market and may or may not be released any time soon, who decide to hold off on buying an iPhone or macbook because they feel the tablet is close and might be just what they want.

      If they are working on a tablet (and it is likely they are) it can be just as damaging for information to come out through a leak compared to a

    • by Tim C (15259)

      If this scavenger hunt is illegal, it would also be illegal for me to offer $10k to anyone who brings me the top-secret Microsoft Phone.

      The phone itself? That would probably be theft...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      ...Without official confirmation of a specific NDA, there's no reason this should be illegal....

      The existence of contracts, including NDAs, do not have to be disclosed to anyone other than the signatories.

  • I think if the nature of Apple's controlled leaks gets to be put up for grabs here, then what defense does Apple have?

    Quite frankly I just want Apple to shit or get off the pot. It's been nearly a decade and a half that the supposed tablet's been rumored. Let's either get it out or say once adn for all, "NO."

  • Really?! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by awyeah (70462) * on Sunday January 17, 2010 @04:31PM (#30800856)

    This may be a bit off topic - but don't people have better things to do? I, for one, will likely come across one of the many news stories that are sure to be published if/when Apple releases this thing. At that point, I will read the story, read reviews, visit Apple's web site, and determine if this device is something I would like to purchase.

    Until then, I'm going to go do other things.

    • by catbutt (469582)
      Well obviously people do care, or there wouldn't be so many articles about it. (however, there are lots of articles on lots of things I don't care about, but I don't bother commenting on them either) To answer your question more directly, anyone contemplating any business model that includes tablet computers (such as iphone app devs) would be wise to follow this sort of news closely....first mover advantage counting for a lot.
    • by Waccoon (1186667)

      Stories like this are for people who are being rational, and might be putting off the purchase of a competitor's product, so they can obsess endlessly about how awesome this product is and how it will change everything and how they absolutely must have it RIGHT NOW even thought they don't know what it is or what it does.

  • It's possible to find this information legally.

    There's certain places in the world that have different views on IP law, and while contractually bound from doing such a thing here, such provision might not hold up there.

  • It is fully within Apple's right to send the cease-and-desist letters to Valleywag. Its basically telling them "if you continue this, we will sue you for damages, and we will win." I see no action taken by the attorney general on anyone's behalf, since almost all speech -- even speech prohibited by another party by contract -- is protected by the US constitution. However, the constitution does not protect you from the consequences of that speech, including being sued for large sums of money.

    What if Valle

  • Gawker websites (Score:4, Interesting)

    by thetoadwarrior (1268702) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @05:43PM (#30801504) Homepage
    Personally, it's my opinion that Gawker sites aren't real news sites and they rely on controversial things, like this to get people looking at their sites. For instance, looking at Kotaku reveals that it's mainly just a bunch of low grade crap that you used to find on someone's Geocities site. The stuff of real substance can be found elsewhere on a site like Edge Online and you don't have to sift through the crap that's padding out the site to get you looking at more ads.

    They really are just paparazzi "journalists" and we don't really need their type plaguing the technology sector. It would be nice if they went away.
  • really, who does ?

    idiot grad for headlines about news of no import whatosever.

    rather probably orchestrated by Apple marketing.

  • In exchange for not getting sued they're basically being locked down to where they can no longer directly post any "leaked" information on any of their websites, and they're being told they have to notify apple of the source.

  • by Hamster Lover (558288) * on Sunday January 17, 2010 @07:20PM (#30802362) Journal

    It seems to me that Apple's legal threat is tacit admission that the iTablet (or whatever such a product would be called) exists. I mean, how can you sue for inducing someone to violate the trade secret that a particular product does not exist? Is that even a trade secret?

  • Hey, there's a prize if you RTFA this time! And here you are, talking about Apple's next shiny gadget. What a bunch of nerds.
  • Which is going to garner you the most hype from the Tech news media?
    A) Hinting that you may have a tablet in the pipeline
    or
    B) Having one of your PR folks get a site to start a scavenger hunt for info and then have lawyer threaten said site over the hunt.

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