We Can Work it Out – A Look Back At Apple & The Beatles

Likely you’ve heard the “big” news. The Beatles back-catalogue of music is now finally available to download from iTunes. On Monday Apple (s aapl) posted a mysterious teaser on its homepage, hinting towards a looming announcement that would result in a day that “you’ll never forget” — a bold claim given the actual announcement, I’m sure you’d agree.

As expected, the masses began speculating as to what this exciting announcement from the House Of Jobs would be. Of course many predicted what we now know as true, but many others hoped for something else, believing that such news didn’t warrant such a bold ‘unforgettable’ statement.

Either way, excited or not, Apple’s battle with The Beatles has been a long one. Ever since the iTunes store appeared back in 2003, folks have been asking for digital versions of the Fab Four’s music. But the story of Apple and The Beatles starts a long time before the days of iPods and iTunes.

A Tale of Two Apples

During the late sixties The Beatles formed the company Apple Corps. Their new company was a conglomerate consisting of several divisions, including Apple Records — the company even had its very own Apple Store.

Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne founded Apple Computer in 1976. Just two years later, in 1978, The Beatles’ Apple Corps warned the then Apple Computer (now Apple Inc) to get back, by suing the younger company for trademark infringement.

Rumor has it that the late George Harrison spotted an advertisement for an Apple Computer in a magazine, prompting The Beatles to take action. With both companies bearing a similar name and logo, the battle resulted in a court case over trademark violation, which was settled in 1981. Apple Computer agreed that it would never enter the music industry, paying Apple Corps $80,000. The Beatles agreed only to use their brand within the entertainment industry.

Apple Computer Gets More Musical

However, despite both parties settling, the fight between the two companies was far from over. During the 1980s Apple’s computers, such as the Mac Plus and the Mac II, began incorporating musical features. The computers were capable of both creating and playing music (MIDI files) — something The Beatles saw as an infringement on the original settlement.

A second round of court action again concluded with a settlement, reached in October of 1991. The altered agreement allowed Apple Computer to sell and market “computers, microprocessors and microprocessor controlled devices, telecommunications equipment, data processing equipment, ancillary and peripheral equipment, and computer software of any kind on any medium”. However, this arrangement, which cost Apple Computer $26.5 million, still gave Apple Corps the right to sue if Apple Computer started selling “creative works whose principal content is music.”

Apple Computer Becomes a Music Seller

Of course, this wasn’t the end. At the turn of the century Apple Computer began development on an MP3 player, along with a store to accompany it. These developments resulted in the release of the iPod and the iTunes Store, arriving in 2001 and 2002 respectively. Apple Corps deemed the iTunes Music Store as a direct violation of the 1991 arrangement. From 2003 to 2007 Apple Computer battled it out with Apple Corps. Various settlements fell through, including one in which Apple Computer offered The Beatles’ Apple Corps just $1 million to exercise the Apple name within the music industry.

Eventually judgement came down in favor Apple Computer, defending the company’s sale of music. The ruling concluded that Apple’s sale of music was fine, because although the iTunes Store was branded, the music that the store sold was not. This was despite Apple Corps’ best efforts to demonstrate just how many times Apple Computer’s similar logo appeared during a typical download session. Apple Corps manager Neil Aspinall disagreed with the court’s decision — “with great respect to the trial judge, we consider he has reached the wrong conclusion.”

With the case settled, Steve Jobs extended the olive branch, inviting the The Beatles’ record label to sell their music on the ever-growing store. Jobs said, “We have always loved The Beatles, and hopefully we can now work together to get them on the iTunes Music Store”. From that point, the speculation as to when the boys from Liverpool would arrive on the digital store has been ever-present.

After iPod conferences, years, rumors, hints, songs from The Beatles are finally available for purchase in the iTunes store, and I for one am glad it’s happened, and the speculation can finally end.

Will you buying any Beatles music on iTunes? Let us know in the comments.

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