Beatles' Apple Corps sues Apple Computer

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Beatles' Apple Corps has filed a lawsuit against computer and electronics maker Apple Computer in a London court this week, the third such lawsuit in a long running trademark dispute between the two companies. Apple Corps claims that Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store violates an agreement reached between the two companies in 1991, which barred Apple Computer from using the "Apple" brand in certain uses in the music business.

The trial is set to begin on Wednesday in the Royal Courts of Justice, located in central London. Presiding Judge Martin Mann has stated that he owns an iPod portable music player, which is made by Apple Computer and marketed alongside the iTunes Music Store.

Apple Corps has twice before sued Apple Computer over its use of the "Apple" name. The first lawsuit was settled out of court in 1981, with the young computer maker paying $80,000 and agreeing to stay out of the music business.

In the late 1980's Apple Computer added audio recording abilities to its Macintosh computers, prompting Apple Corps to file suit again in 1989. That lawsuit was settled in 1991, also out of court, with Apple paying $26.5 million. The settlement included a more specific agreement over the boundaries between the two brands: Apple Computer was allowed to use its name to market "goods or services...used to reproduce, run, play or otherwise deliver such [music] content," but barred from distributing music on a physical medium such as CD or cassette.

Apple Corps' latest suit, filed in September 2003, claims that the computer company violated the 1991 agreement with its iTunes Music Store, which sells digital music that can be downloaded to personal computers. A statement from Apple Computer stated that "Apple and Apple Corps now have differing interpretations of this agreement and will need to ask a court to resolve this dispute." Some observers have suggested that the wording of the 1991 agreement, which did not explicitly bar digital music distribution, could be to Apple Computer's advantage.

A similar suit was filed simultaneously in California, Apple Computer's home state, but on September 21, 2004 the parties agreed to have the case heard by the UK court.

Beatles songs have not been licensed for digital download on any of the online music services.

Apple Corps was founded by the Beatles in 1968. Apple Computer was started by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1976, and launched the iTunes Music Store in 2003.

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