As the unmistakable opening notes of the disco hit “Le Freak” thumped through London’s High Court today (March 29), it was clear that “Apple Corps Ltd. vs. Apple Computer Inc” was not going to be a typical trademark lawsuit.
Apple Corps Ltd. — owned by Beatles Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono and the estate of George Harrison — have accused Apple Computer of violating a 1991 agreement by using the Apple name and logo to sell music downloads through its market-leading iTunes Music Store.
“Apple Computer can go into the recorded music business in any way they want. What they cannot do is use the Apple [trade]mark to do it,” Apple Corps counsel Geoffrey Vos said in his opening statement.
In a high-tech courtroom strewn with computers, monitors and at least one iPod, Vos demonstrated the iTunes software by downloading the song “Le Freak” and playing it for Justice Edward Mann, a self-professed iPod owner.
Vos said the Apple Computer logo is “intimately associated with the process” of buying a song from the iTunes Music Store. He also played a TV ad featuring the British band Coldplay, which prominently displayed the logo.
Apple Computer has become a major force in the music industry, selling some 14 million iPod portable music players and more than 1 billion songs from the iTunes Music Store.
Apple Corps, which has refused to license any of the Beatles’ recordings for sale through online music services, has filed trademark lawsuits against Apple Computer twice before. The most recent settlement in 1991 resulted in a $26 million payment by Apple Computer and an agreement to limit the use of its Apple trademark in the music business.
The implications of that deal are now in dispute. Apple Computer said in a statement before the trial, “Unfortunately, Apple and Apple Corps now have differing interpretations of this agreement and will need to ask a court to resolve this dispute.”
Apple Corps is seeking a judgment of liability and an injunction against Apple Computer. If it succeeds, a subsequent trial will assess damages.
Apple Computer counsel Anthony Grabiner was due to give his opening presentation, but it was pushed back until tomorrow. Apple Corps Managing Director Neil Aspinall, a former Beatles road manager, and Eddie Cue, Apple Computer’s vice president for applications, are scheduled to testify at the trial, which is due to run through next week.
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