Could Apple's Lawyers Really Not Understand That Reporting Isn't Copyright Infringement?

from the seems-unlikely dept

Apple is notorious in the legal efforts they undertake to keep their secrets secret and to protect their intellectual property. However, it seems that some of Apple's lawyers may have a trigger finger that's a little too itchy. Following the announcement of the iPhone last week, someone created a skin for Windows Mobile devices that looks just like the iPhone's interface (though, of course, it doesn't actually work like the iPhone interface). It's reasonable to expect that Apple's lawyers would try to stop the person who created the software from distributing it (which would certainly be a reasonable trademark claim, though, not a particularly useful one). However, rather than doing that, they've been sending cease-and-desists at any blogs talking about it and posting the images of the Windows Mobile skin. It's clearly not a trademark infringement to report on the situation, but here's where Apple's lawyers get even odder. Rather than claiming a trademark infringement claim, they're actually calling it a copyright infringement issue -- which isn't just wrong, it's egregiously wrong.

The lawyers claim copyright over the icons, but you can't stop someone from using them in a report about them, which is clearly fair use. It's also not trademark infringement (if they decided to go down that route). It's just bullying. Michael Arrington, over at TechCrunch, has posted the image as well, pointing out how ridiculous this is. Some of the comments to his post show the level of confusion out there around the law. It is true that if you don't protect your trademark you can lose it, but that's not what's going on here at all. First, it's not trademark law they're using, and the same thing doesn't apply to copyrights. Second, even if it was trademark law they were using, they wouldn't have a case against those who were simply reporting the story and showing the image (they probably would against anyone selling the software, however). It's yet another example of lawyers simply using intellectual property law to bully those who are doing something they don't like, not something illegal.

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  1. identicon
    Herbie - A Love Bug, 15 Jan 2007 @ 11:09am

    Weak Products = Legal Wrangling.

    Poor Apple, I could only imagine their horror when they saw their pretty iPhone interface as an MS-Mobile startup screen. Cold sweats and four letter exclamations must of ruled the day.

    Apple does not like competition especially in the 'cool' department but they have a problem with the iPhone. Aside from OS 10, it's a relatively weak and poorly differentiated offering.

    I'm sure the OS 10 aspect of it will greatly enhance it's usability in the future, but my opinion is that Apple has a huge job in front of them gaining mind share for this device from a customer base that is constantly fighting the cellular companies for cheaper rates and free stuff.

    Keep in mind, the Treo/Blackberry/MS-Mobile crowd is a very small and hightly specialized percentage of the overall customer base.

    Now, it takes alot of money to mount a trademark or patent infringement suit. But sending cease and desist letters based on copyright is cheap and easy and if you scare easily as most people and ISPs do, it works. And what's the damage if you sue Apple for being wrong? Not much, all a judge is going to do is tell you it's up to you to interpret the law for yourself or retain a lawyer to do it for you. In this case, Apple has everything to gain and nothing to loose if their strategy works AND they keep things relatively quite and off the mainstream media's radar scope.

    This strategy by Apple, while legally incorrect, is typical of creative legal scheming. They know that sometimes, a sniper's bullet can send a stronger message than a platoon of tanks.

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