Remember This? Apple and the Beatles Went to Court 14 Years Ago Today

The Beatles Album Credit: Imma Gambardella / Shutterstock
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There are a lot of things one could go to court over within the technology industry. Sometimes it’s over issues of structural abuse or censorship. Sometimes it’s a case involving monopolistic control of the market. And sometimes it’s just because there’s a shared name based on a popular fruit.

For the majority of Apple’s history, there has been an underlying conflict simmering beneath the surface. In 1978, Apple (the tech company) received a lawsuit claiming trademark infringement from Apple Corps.

Apple Corps?

Apple Corps is the holding company that the Beatles founded in the midst of their career with the intention of maintaining their brand label, Apple Records. So seeing a tech company use the same label was a problem for them.

In 1981, Apple reported that they paid Apple Corps an undisclosed amount to resolve the matter for a time. Apple Corps would consider the lawsuit finished, as long as Apple did not get into the music business. But this lawsuit was not resolved.

Over the following decade, Apple Corps was involved in two additional Apple-oriented lawsuits. The first was in 1986 when Apple began to incorporate audio-recording technologies into their computers. The filing went through and ended with Apple ceasing their current endeavors to build media-producing technology.

A second lawsuit was resolved in 1991 after Apple Corps discovered that employees included a sampled system sound called Chimes in the OS.

Another legal battle occurred, this one ending with some determinative results. Apple Corps was going to keep their copyright, specifically in regard to “creative works whose principal content is music.”

Apple, meanwhile, was allowed to use the trademark on “goods or services … used to reproduce, run, play or otherwise deliver such content” but not on physical products.

A Boiling Point

All was well for the two companies for nearly a decade, until things reached a head in 2003. Apple Corps filed yet another lawsuit, claiming that Apple was violating its guidelines yet again when they attached the Apple logo to the iTunes Music Store. In this particular case, the results seemed unclear where the law might drop, with mixed opinions.

Prior to this filing, Apple and Apple Corps had not taken this ongoing conflict of media giants to court; seeming to resolve matters in the boardroom. March 29, 2006 would be the first time that Apple Corps vs. Apple would face off before a judge.

The case was a short one, ending less than two months after it began. The judge ruled in Apple’s favor, arguing that there was no actual breach of copyright in Apple’s actions, noting that the actions were well within the parameters of their legal agreement. Not that Apple Corps agreed.

Their representative stated that “With great respect to the trial judge, we consider he has reached the wrong conclusion” and that they would seek an appeal. Said appeal never happened, as the judge forced Apple Corps to cover the legal fees for Apple (estimated around 2 million pounds).

While one might see a filing like the above to be the end of a relationship between the two corporations, the reality is much different.

In February 2007, Apple and Apple Corps announced that they were settling the ongoing trademark conflict between the two organizations. The two organizations would continue to use their copyrights on the relevant products, and Apple would continue to attach the Apple logo to iTunes.

In the accompanying press release, Jobs stated that “We love the Beatles, and it has been painful being at odds with them over these trademarks. It feels great to resolve this in a positive manner, and in a way that should remove the potential of further disagreements in the future.”

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