Beatles Claim Apple’s iTunes Violates Trademark
This is a long-running dispute that is at least 25 years old, involving one of the most well-known companies in the music business and another company that has developed a digital downloaded music market that now accounts for 6 percent of all music sales.
Apple Corps Ltd. is a multimedia company whose main purpose is to manage the holdings of Apple Records, the Beatles’ record label since 1968. Apple Corps sued Apple Computer over use of the “Apple” name in 1981, four years after the computer company began business. That case settled in October 1991. According to Martin Schwimmer (editor of The Trademark Blog), Apple Computer paid $27 million to Apple Corps in settlement fees. Schwimmer also noted the computer company had to pay its own legal fees, as its insurer refused coverage.
In the confidential settlement, Apple Computer purportedly agreed to limit its use of the term “Apple” to computer products. (Key portions of the October 1991 settlement were published in a 2004 British court case, in which Apple Computer lost its attempt to remove the case from British courts based on lack of jurisdiction.)
Apple Computer launched its iTunes software and music store in spring 2003. Apple Corps sued Apple Computer in July 2003, claiming that iTunes violated the companies’ settlement. The current litigation, which started Wednesday in the High Court of Britain, arises from the 2003 lawsuit. Apple Corps alleges Apple Computer’s use of the “Apple” mark with the iTunes music store violates the parties’ 1991 settlement agreement.
Apple Corps has refused to make the Beatles’ music catalog available to any download service — including iTunes — even though rumors about digital distribution of the band’s catalog have swirled since 2004.
Martin Hickman. Apple vs Apple As The Beatles Take On Computer Giant. The Independent. March 30, 2006.
John Borland and Ina Fried. Apple vs. Apple: Perfect Harmony? News.com. Sept. 23, 2004.
John Borland. Beatles Catalog Headed For Digital Distribution? News.com. June 8, 2004.
High Court of Justice, Royal Courts of Justice. Approved Judgment: Apple Corps Limited and Apple Computer, Inc. April 7, 2004. (Court denies Apple Computer’s application to keep the case out of British courts on jurisdictional grounds.)
The Trademark Blog. While My Trademark Lawyer Gently Weeps. Sept. 15, 2003.
David Becker. Beatles Group Sues Apple Over Trademark. News.com. Sept. 12, 2003.
John Borland. Apple Unveils Music Store. News.com. April 28, 2003.
CopyCense™: K. Matthew Dames on the law, business, and technology of digital content. A business venture of Seso Digital LLC.