09 May 2006

More on Apple vs Apple

I came across the full writeup of Justice Edward Mann's decision on the Apple Corps vs Apple Computer case. It is very interesting reading - even for the lay legal person. It also shows that the judge had a pretty complete grasp of the issues. I strongly advise anyone who thinks they have a good idea of who is right and wrong on this to read the full decision write-up.

How I read his ruling was that he felt that what Apple Computer had done was fair enough anyway even without resorting to Clause 4.3 of the 1991 agreement - at least for most parts of the complaint (clause 4.3 seemed to give Apple Computer the right to distribute music in non-physical form). There is considerable effort given by the judge to understanding why clause 4.3 was inserted and what it was doing, and he comes down pretty much in favour of Apple Computer on that too - giving them additional ammunition in an appeal. It seems the judge found in favour of Apple Computer on most if not all of the issues because of what a normal person would construe.

Interestingly he did not consider that because Neil Aspinall (of Apple Corps) had seen a demo of iTMS and did not complain, meant that Apple Corps did not basically object. I think in a way that is reasonable as Mr Aspinall is not a lawyer and if we're honest, most of us non-lawyers would not be considering such things if we did get a demo of such software/service. But he did accuse Mr Aspinall of exaggerating his technical incompetence!

What became clear to me reading this judgement is that Apple Computer have understood the details of the 1991 agreement very clearly from day 1, and have studiously attempted not to go outside the boundaries - at least of their interpretation. They have been incredibly careful to limit where the word "Apple" and the Apple logo are used in the music store, in ads and other material - even with the iPod itself. The judge cleverly picked up when marketing speak was used which might have been interpreted to show infringement. But Apple Computer have had to tread a very fine line indeed - presumably with inhouse lawyers involved in interface design, advertisements, marketing materials etc. This might also explain why Apple hasn't done anything to promote physical + digital sales combinations (eg buy the digital version now and have the CD delivered). Ultimately, winning this case may allow Apple more freedom to innovate in crossing the physical/digital divide (should they need to). I think they may have to do this in the face of competition from people such as Amazon, MTV, etc.

Whoever at Apple Computer worked on the 1991 agreement deserves a medal from Steve. But apart from Apple Computer, I think the clear winner in this case is the British judicial system who have come out of it as modern clear thinkers.

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