• Apple Versus Apple Centers on a Logo

    April 1st, 2006

    In the scheme of things, it probably doesn’t matter why The Beatles choose the name Apple for their company, or why Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak did the very same thing. Sure, there have been stories about both decisions, but they are matters that do not concern me on bit. However, it planted the seeds for a legal battle that won’t let up. This week, the surviving members of the British rock band and the estates of those who are no longer with us are doing battle because the computer company with the same name dares to sell music online.

    As legal skirmishes go, this one has one memorable quotable, that “even a moron in a hurry” could tell the difference between the iTunes Music Store and the Apple record label. But the real issue under dispute is Apple Computer’s rights under their last settlement with Apple Corps. Is making data available for download that happens to contain music akin to selling physical recordings? But, as with most court matters, it’s a question that can have no simple solution, and regardless of the judge’s rulings, there could be years and years of appeals before the issue is decided once and for all.

    Should Apple Computer lose, it will be ordered to remove the Apple logo from the iTunes Music Store, something most people probably wouldn’t even notice. But it will also have to pay Apple Corps what may amount to millions of dollars in damages. Not that Steve Jobs and company can’t afford it, but why must it come to that? Besides, just what has been damaged? Has Sir Paul McCartney lost a single pence because of the case of the dueling logos? And how much money has Paul lost because his songs can’t be purchased from the iTunes Music Store?

    As practical solutions go, one might have hoped for a friendly settlement between the parties, one that would also put the incredible catalog from the Beatles, both group and solo, online. At one time, I imagined Steve Jobs, Sir Paul and Yoko Ono sitting in a locked room, hammering out a settlement, with Ringo serving tea to keep everyone’s throats from getting too dry.

    One would think that their marketing people managing the affairs of The Beatles have gone to extra mile to exploit the products. In fact, all those famous tunes have been released and re-released over the years. You have the British versions of the albums, the American versions, alternate takes, posthumous songs and other methods to entice you to buy the same songs over and over again.

    In case you’re wondering, yes, I did buy the original CD releases when they appeared, and, no, I am not inclined to want to buy too many of the alternatives.

    To be sure, you can’t feel sorry for even the “poorest” of the Fab Four, Ringo Starr, since he has more than enough money for several lifetimes unless he develops inventive methods to squander all of his fortune. At the same time, their business people have the perfect right to control the way the works are licensed, and to protect their intellectual property.

    But all this for a pair of company logos that anyone can tell apart without a sideways glance?

    In my opinion, both parties are wrong. Sure, Apple Computer might not have envisioned that it would be dominating an entire segment of the music business in the early 1990’s when it made that settlement with Apple Corps. At the same time, there should have been provisions that allowed both parties to renegotiate the deal in the event technology changed in the years to come.

    I also wonder just what the people at Apple Corps are thinking. Wouldn’t it be more important to finally place Beatles tunes online? Consider the monetary value, and would they gain near as much in a lawsuit, after the legal fees are deducted?

    Wouldn’t it be nice to be a fly on the wall, listening in on the conversations between Apple Corps attorneys and their famous clients about these matters. I’d be curious to know what led them to this point, and why they are so intransigent about the matter?

    Yes, all these things shall pass. Maybe we’ll even see the faces of The Beatles gracing the home page of the iTunes Music Store, with or without the Apple logo. But I’m not holding my breath.

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