Battle brews for Apple pie

Fab Four label takes computer giant to court

Two cultural icons — the Beatles and Apple Computer — opened their legal battle Wednesday over who has the rights to use the image of an apple to promote music.

The Apple vs. Apple trial started with a detailed chronology of the Fab Four, their record company Apple Corps and Apple Computer, which entered the music business via its iTunes store and iPod player.

Addressing High Court Justice Edward Mann,lawyer Geoffrey Vos said a 1991 agreement specifically stated the computer firm could not use its trademark to sell music. Both parties, Vos noted, had agreed to strict trademark conditions whereby they would both stick to their “core fields of use,” preventing Apple Corps from entering the computer market and preventing Apple Computer from becoming involved in music sales using the Apple trademark.

Demonstrating that the Apple logo is being used to sell music, Vos showed the court a promotional video for the iTunes Music Store featuring Coldplay. The service advertised exclusive content on its Web site and used the Apple logo when informing viewers of the service.

Vos rejected the computer company’s expected claim that it is only using the Apple mark in connection with the iTunes software, saying it is displayed at the point of sale when a track is being purchased from the Web site.

Apple Corps is seeking an injunction to force Apple Computers to remove any reference to Apple and the Apple logo on its iTunes Music Store Web site as well as associated marketing and advertising. If Apple Corps is successful, another trial would determine damages.

Moments of levity filled the opening day of the trial as Vos quoted Hunter S. Thompson’s observation that “the music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Judge Mann, an iPod user, noted the two leading lawyers in the trial may be the only people who have ever read the iTunes terms and conditions. In addition to testimony, Chic’s disco classic “Le Freak” and Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound” filled the normally staid Royal Courts of Justice.

Trial continues today, when Anthony Grabiner is expected to present opening submissions on behalf of Apple Computer. Trial is expected to last about six days and feature the testimony of Apple Corps managing director Neil Aspinall, among others.

Apple Corps — owned by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and the estates of John Lennon and George Harrison — first battled Apple Computer in 1981, when the computer company was just four years old. Steve Jobs, who said he chose Apple as a nod to the band, made an undisclosed payment to Apple Corps and agreed to use the name only for computer products.

The Beatles have never made their music available to iTunes or any other digital download service.