Gizmodo, which posted photos today of what it said was the next-generation iPhone, paid $5,000 for access to the smartphone, said Nick Denton, head of Gawker Media, which publishes the blog.
In an email reply to questions, Denton said "$5k" when asked how much Gawker paid for access to the purported iPhone. Earlier today, Denton had tweeted, "Does Gizmodo pay for exclusives? Too right!"
Denton repeated what his Gizmodo reporter, Jason Chen, had said in his story, that the disguised iPhone had been found in a Redwood City, Calif. bar by the person or persons whom Gawker paid. "[It is] our understanding that the phone was lost," he said.
Just before 6:30 pm Eastern time, Denton posted another tweet that reinforced his lost, not stolen- contention. "iPhone update. We think we've identified the sorry Apple engineer who left the next-gen phone at the bar," he wrote.
Apple's attorneys have not contacted Gawker Media, Denton added. "No official communication, no," he said, leaving open the door to some other form of contact.
That may be how Apple will play it, said Barry Cohen, an intellectual property attorney at Thorp Reed & Armstrong LLP.
"It's hard to predict Apple's response, but they may not comment on it, because any act on their part would actually validate the story," Cohen said. "By not commenting, they could create an air of mystery that this is, in fact, the [next] iPhone."
In any case, although Apple and its CEO Steve Jobs might be furious about the leak, this isn't the same as if a trade secret had been disclosed, Cohen argued.
"This isn't the Coca-Cola formula, that's been secret for forever," he said. "Cell phone technology changes so fast, for one thing, and if they're going to launch this themselves in one, two or three months, they don't need to worry about trade secrets."
Denton didn't express any concern about what steps, if any, Apple might take, and cited a January 2008 lawsuit by the Church of Scientology and actor Tom Cruise against Gawker for posting video clips of a "private [Church of Scientology International] religious event" as proof.
Denton said today when asked Gawker's plans if it was faced with legal threats from Apple: "Formidable though Steve Jobs may be, the Church of Scientology has a more vicious reputation for litigation."
Cohen hesitated to define Gawker's liability, but said that the firm would be unlikely to face charges if, in fact, the iPhone had been lost. If it had been stolen, as others have speculated, things could change.
"There are criminal statues on [states'] books for the receipt of stolen property," Cohen said. "I would be wary of buying something from someone not knowing the provenance. Everyone knows that Apple keeps a very tight lid on these kinds of things."
Denton has promised to reveal more details of how Gizmodo came in possession of the alleged iPhone, which one tear-down expert judged to be the "real deal" after reviewing the blog's photographs and description.
"For people who want to know the back-story to Gizmodo's iPhone exclusive, it's coming," Denton said via Twitter around 4 pm Eastern. "And it's a corker."
The story has been a page-view magnet for Gizmodo. The Web analytics service it uses says that "This Is Apple's Next iPhone" story has collected more than 10 million page views today.
Apple has not replied to an earlier request seeking comment on the Gizmodo post.