Apple Computers and Apple Corp are returning to court today, as The Beatles (or as the MSNBC headline currently has it, “The Beattles”) are accusing Apple Computer of trademark infringement. Again.
Like everything else on the planet, this is centered around iTunes and the iPod, as they represent Apple Comp’s movement into the music space, which Apple Corp says violates the agreement they brokered last time they were in court, 15 years ago.
To Apple Corp, Apple Comp going into music infringes on the value of the Apple record label, which to me, brings up an interesting side point: in the day and age of downloading, what is the value of a record label to a consumer?
Back in the day of vinyl, it was very obvious which label distributed which band: the logo, artwork and name were always very prominent. We got used to the WB street scene, the Epic spiral, and yes, the full apple on the A-side and the half-apple on the B-side. This solidified the brand of the label in people’s minds, and perhaps even brand loyalty. Even the major labels had personalities.
This started diminishing in the age of CDs: artwork wasn’t as prominent, and even indies who had developed followings — SST or K or Matador — weren’t as much as people’s faces as brands, but more as distribution mechanisms. Especially as artists jumped from label to label to label.
Nowadays, in the age of downloads, the actual record labels are just another name in all of the description text. Purely a distribution mechanism, and only the labels who specialize in a specific type of sub-genre are branded in the minds of their fans, and, of course many many artists are eschewing even indie labels and doing it their own damn selves.
So I would argue that the concept of the “record label” as a brand that can be damaged — the concept that Apple Corp seems to be holding on to — is ananchronistic, at best, and quite possibly dead. Whether that is a legal argument is for others to decide, but in today’s world is an absolute reality.