Let It Be: Apple vs. Apple Case Settled

On Monday, Apple Inc. (the former Apple Computer) and Apple Corps. (which owns the rights to all music recorded by The Beatles) reached a settlement in a long-standing trademark dispute. The settlement follows a over 20 years of legal battles which last culminated in a May 2006 ruling in which a British judge decided that Apple Inc. was not violating a 1991 agreement between the two companies that stated, in part, that Apple Inc. wouldn't enter the music business. Today, of course, Apple's iPod and iTunes products dominate the MP3 player and online music services markets, respectively.

As a result of the settlement, Apple Inc. now owns all trademarks associated with the Apple name and logos, though it will license some of those trademarks back to Apple Corps. Both companies will pay their own legal costs, but other details of the settlement will not be disclosed, both companies said.

The deal sparks renewed speculation that The Beatles' music catalog will now be released electronically, most likely as an exclusive on Apple's iTunes service for a limited time. And while many news reports about this settlement have trumpeted that possibility as a near certainty, representatives from Apple Corps said yesterday that there was no connection. Indeed, they noted that it was The Beatles' recording label, EMI, that has rebuffed offers for putting the music online.

Still, hope springs eternal: George Martin, the legendary producer who is widely considered responsible for The Beatles in-studio sound, has spent the past year working with his son to remaster the entire Beatles catalog. Sure, this music can (and will be) reissued on CD. But digital distribution is an obvious opportunity as well.

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