Apple music trading dispute may go to court

The legal wrangle between Apple Computer and Apple Corporation, which represents the Beatles' interests, could end up in court, said Steve Jobs, the computer maker's chief executive, yesterday.

Apparently to emphasise that he would not let the lawsuit block his plans to sell online music in Europe, he chose to play a Beatles track - In My Life, performed by the late Johnny Cash - before a keynote speech in Paris yesterday.

Last week Apple Corp, the British company formed by the pop group in 1968 to manage their interests, revealed it is suing the California-based technology company over its online iTunes music service for downloading pre-recorded music and its iPod digital music player. Yesterday Mr Jobs, who co-founded Apple Computer in 1976 - and lost a $23m (£14.5m) lawsuit filed by the music company soon afterwards - said the dispute might end up in court and blamed an agreement signed between the two companies in 1989.

Then, the music company won a $27m settlement against the computer maker for "illegally" using the band's name and logo to sell speakers attached to computers. The agreement also precluded Apple Computer from entering the music business. Neither dispute was settled by a judge.

Mr Jobs essentially dismissed the agreement's relevance yesterday, noting it was drawn up after he left the company in the mid-1980s, and before he returned to it in 1996.

"Apple Corporation and Apple [Computer] signed a legal agreement more than a decade ago. I wasn't there, and it says what each company can do with their trademark," he said. "I inherited that, and right now there's a disagreement about this. It's a trademark dispute... We might have to get a judge to decide on it."

The shift towards music as a revenue source has become important for Apple Computer, which last week said it had sold 10 million tracks online and has now sold more than 1 million iPods.

Mr Jobs also said difficulties over negotiating licensing rights with music companies meant a European version of iTunes would not be available until next year.

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