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Sour Apples Between Beatles, iTunes

Computer maker's online music store triggers lawsuit by the band's licensing firm.

September 13, 2003|Jeff Leeds | Times Staff Writer

Apple Computer Inc. probably wishes the Beatles would just let it be.

Lawyers for Apple Corps, the Beatles' music and licensing company, have sued the Cupertino, Calif., company for allegedly breaking a 1991 pact limiting the role the computer maker could play in the music business.

The lawsuit -- filed in London after the successful debut in April of Apple Computer's iTunes online music store -- asks a judge to enforce the pact and to award damages.

The 1991 agreement "specified the rights each company would have to use the 'Apple' trademark," Apple Computer spokesman Todd Wilder said. "Unfortunately, Apple and Apple Corps now have differing interpretations of this agreement and will need to ask a court to resolve this dispute."

The feud could end badly for iTunes, which, as it is, can't sell any Beatles songs because Apple Corps hasn't agreed to license them to the service. And it could threaten plans by Steve Jobs, Apple Computer's chief executive, to roll out a version of iTunes, which is now limited to Macintosh computer users, for the far larger audience of Windows PC users by the end of the year. The Mac-only Internet store is the most successful effort to sell licensed tunes online, with more than 10 million songs sold so far.

For the Fab Four and the Silicon Valley computer firm, trouble had never seemed so far away. In 1981, four years after Apple Computer was founded, the two companies signed a deal about how to share the rights to the Apple name and the two firms' similar logos. But the Beatles sued in 1989, saying the computer company had violated the pact by selling products that could create or reproduce music.

In 1991, the two sides reached a settlement at the heart of the Apple Corps lawsuit. Back then, Apple Computer paid the band and its heirs a reported $26.4 million; the other terms of the settlement weren't disclosed.

Representatives for Apple Corps didn't return calls Friday.

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