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Apple vs. Apple


Apple vs. Apple
When Steve Jobs created the Apple I computer in 1976, he was well on his way to creating the personal computer market. Unfortunately, he named it specifically after the Beatles' Apple, a similarly idealistic company the group had formed back in the late Sixties as a tax write-off. That company, one of history's most notoriously unstructured, soon collapsed, but it lived on as a record label for the group. When the surviving members finally put their Dickensian pile of lawsuits behind them in the late Eighties, they reformed Apple as a clearinghouse for Beatles product (including, of course, music). Since they owned the copyright first, Jobs and his company were forced to reach an agreement with the Beatles' Apple over the use of its name. And so the trouble began.

Latest Developments

April 13, 2006: A stunning announcement, consisting of testimony from the Beatles' former road manager, Neil Aspinall, leaked after the trial: "We're remastering the whole Beatles catalog, just to make it sound brighter. I think it would be wrong to offer downloads of the old masters when I am making new masters. It would be better to wait and try to do them both simultaneously, so that you then get the publicity of the new masters and the downloading, rather than just doing it ad hoc." This suggests quite openly that the Beatles' estate is planning to enter the digital revolution and finally offer the band's tracks for download over the Internet. Apple has confirmed the statement but set no future dates for completion.
April 6, 2006: Testimony has ended in the case. Judge Edward Mann has indicated a decision will come after the court's Easter break.
March 31, 2006: Defense attorney Anthony Grabiner's opening statement dismisses the Apple Corps claim of copyright infringement as "ridiculous," claiming that "even a moron in a hurry" would not become confused between Apple's iTunes music store and the Apple record label. Grabiner also claimed that the 1991 settlement entitled the computer giant to a "considerably expanded field of use" for the name.
March 30, 2006: Attorney for the prosecution Geoffrey Vos, in his opening remarks, states that Apple's iTunes store "was flatly contradictory to the provisions of the [1991] agreement" and claimed that Apple must not use its logo to enter the music business under any circumstances.
March 29, 2006: Trial has begun in London. This is an advantage to Apple Corps, who wanted the trial to be held in their home of Britain; all previous Apple vs. Apple lawsuits had been held in California, and this move is seen as an advantage for the prosecution.


The trademark dispute between the two Apples is a textbook case of how advancing technology shrinks the global marketplace. When the Apple II took off in 1978, what was then Apple Records filed its first trademark infringement suit, which was settled in 1981 on the Beatles' behalf for $80,000. The main condition of that settlement -- upon which all ensuing litigation has been based -- was that Apple Computer agree to stay out of the music business entirely.

This didn't seem to be a hard promise to keep in the early Eighties, when most computers ran silently. As the MIDI format of computer music encoding became popular in the late Eighties, however, Apple Corps sued again, claiming in 1989 that playing music back through an Apple computer violated the agreement. After three long years of wrangling, Apple Computer again lost, agreeing to pay Apple Corps $26.5 million for the right to use MIDI files.

However, Apple Computer began to diversify in the early 21st Century, utilizing the mp3 format to branch out into the portable-music hardware market with the iPod as well as the burgeoning "legal download" market with iTunes, its online music store. Both are wildly popular in key demographics. This prompted the Beatles' Apple to sue yet again in September 2003. This latest trial opened in the UK on March 29, 2006.

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