There’s nothing more coveted in journalism than the scoop, from Tajikistan to technology.

But there can be a price to pay for those who would serve up these media morsels. Just ask the 21-year-old man who discovered an iPhone prototype sitting on a bar stool in Redwood City, CA, and then sold it to a technology website. Now he’s discovered he’s “very definitely … being looked at as a suspect in theft,” according to local law enforcement. That’s because if you find a lost item in California and keep it without making “reasonable” efforts to find the real owner, you might be charged with a crime.

That $5,000 Gizmodo paid Brian Hogan will probably just end up being just a down payment on his legal bill. To minimize the pain, he’s apologized to Apple, which is known for zealously protecting its secrets and, true to form, vigorously pursued the top-secret gadget that was accidentally left behind by one of its engineers. As for Jason Chen, the Gizmodo editor, police raided his home and seized his computers and servers. But because of “shield laws” protecting journalists, Chen may have little fear of prosecution. Indeed, from the publication’s perspective, the whole affair could be more dream than nightmare: Jackboot thugs storming the hiding place of our intrepid hero, a nervy scribe intent on airing secrets and serving the public interest. Long live democracy!

At any rate, the scoops continue on, proving once again that the media and lawyers are usually the only winners in the game of human folly. First, trumpeted that it had sleuthed out the identity of Hogan and quickly publicized his name. Now CNET reports that a UC Berkeley student named Sage Robert Wallower was the one who helped Hogan find a buyer. The 27-year-old told CNET that he “didn’t see it or touch it in any manner” … adding, “I need to speak to a lawyer … I think I have said too much.”

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