Diablog: Morons in a Hurry

It's Apple vs. Apple! Apple Corps, the record label owned by the Beatles, is suing Apple Computer over trademark infringement. Don't you love it when rich people get into a fistfight? I can just visualize Steve Jobs giving Paul McCartney the evil eye.

I, on the other hand, can visualize Yoko Ono grabbing Steve Jobs by the hair and pulling him around the floor.

Does that mean you're taking the side of Apple Corps over Apple Computer? Oh, you're hopeless. Who doesn't love the inventor of the iPod? Where are your priorities, man?

Hey, I grew up with the Beatles, OK? Of course I'm on their side! These guys got ripped off from day one of their career. Those clubs in Hamburg had them playing seven or eight hours a night for peanuts. Their record company gave them a stingy royalty, at least until the CD format allowed them to renegotiate. The British government taxed them at 95 percent when they were in their prime earning years—remember "Taxman," the George Harrison song? "There's 1 for you, 19 for me," me being the taxman. Their well-meaning but incompetent manager practically gave away their merchandising rights. Then the band fell into the hands of another manager, about whom the less said the better. Is it any wonder that Paul, Ringo, Yoko, and Olivia want to protect the Apple Corps trademark?

All right, we both have our sentimental favorites. Even so, my sympathies lie with Steve. Here's a guy who's at the peak of his creativity. He's just given us the iPod. When the record labels were dying to find a way to make downloads work as a business model, he handed it to them on silver platter. Now he's doing consumers a favor by trying to hold down the cost of downloads to 99 cents a track. Not to mention the fact that he may be about to revolutionize the HTPC. His products are beautiful. Hasn't this guy earned our respect? Why not cut him some slack?

Granted, Steve's contributions to the technology industry may be comparable to the Beatles' contribution to the music industry. But if you were his lawyer, what else would you say to defend him? I mean, his actual lawyer isn't doing him any favors when he says "even a moron in a hurry" has to agree with Steve. It's that kind of diplomatic acumen that keeps getting Steve in hot water.

Neither of us is a lawyer. Nothing we say matters anyway. I would just point out that, regardless of what the original agreement between Apple Computer and Apple Corps may have said, Steve has since paid for the right to use the Apple logo in any way that relates to computing, and that certainly includes data transmission. To be precise, he paid $26.5 million in a 1991 settlement. Now the Beatles want another payout. I wonder why? According to the Associated Press, Apple Corps posted a $950,000 loss in 2005 after paying $2.2 million to each of the Beatle survivors and heirs for "promotional services." This is obviously an opportunistic lawsuit motivated solely by money. I say it stinks.

Tell that to the judge. He's not interested in who's greedier than whom. Or even who is more arrogant. This is a trademark dispute. The simple fact is that the Beatles started using the name Apple first. That should give them some say over how the name is used.

The purpose of trademark is to enable someone to do business in that name. The presence of the Apple Computer logo in the iTunes store does nothing to reduce the value of the Beatles' name or their catalogue.

But it's not just in the iTunes store. It's everywhere, on your TV screen, on billboards, on the sides of buses. The Apple logo has become synonymous with the marketing of music downloads. Can't Steve Jobs spare a few dollars for the original owners of his trademark? It's not like he can't afford it.

But who's added more value to the Apple name lately? Look at it this way. You walk up to the average person on the street and say, "I'm doing a survey about the Apple company. What do they make?" And the answer will be, "they make iPods." Or maybe "they make computers." Not "oh, isn't that the Beatles' record label?" I'll bet the average music lover under the age of 40 couldn't even name the Beatles' record label.

Everyone should pay their bills.

You have no imagination.

And you just want a free iPod.

Mark Fleischmann is the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater. For links to the latest edition, visit www.quietriverpress.com.

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