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Who Owns the Steve Jobs Tribute Image?

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Steve Jobs tribute image by Jonathan Mak via bangdoll on Flickr

Steve Jobs tribute image by Jonathan Mak via bangdoll on Flickr

You’ve probably seen it—the white apple with the black silhouette of Steve Jobs’ profile where the usual Apple “bite” is. Upon the announcement of Jobs’ death, the twist on Apple’s iconic image made its way around social media, even serving as Ashton Kuthcher’s Twitter avatar for a while.

But who owns the image?

Farzin Adeli of California has applied to register a copyright for it and is working with lawyers on filing a trademark application for a as well. Adeli insists that he invented a design after Jobs’ death and the one that has been making the rounds is “virtually identical” to his, only with the black and white color scheme reversed. (At the time of this post, it is unclear whether Adeli is seeking to include the words “Make your mark” that appear in some of the “black” images found online.)

Two others are also claiming to have come up with the image, though. Jonathan Mak of Hong Kong and Chris Thornley aka “Raid71” of the UK have also taken credit for the image on the Internet. Thornley claims to have created his design back in May, while Mak said he independently created his on his own in August. Mak readily admits, however, that Thornley’s image may have been floating around in cyberspace before his.

While the images are undeniably similar, the dimensions and proportions of the silhouetted images are all different.

So what are the chances that Adeli’s copyright and/or trademark aspirations will be realized?

The other two individuals who say they created the design may or may not raise a hurdle for Adeli, but the larger problem for Adeli would likely be Apple itself. To say that Apple defends its intellectual property rights vehemently would be an understatement, and since the image in question is based heavily on a version of the original Apple logo, the company could challenge any copyright or trademark registration with ease.

[Editor's note: Copyrighted material must be “original” and trademarks must not cause a “likelihood of confusion” with existing marks. Adeli would have to be a fairly high jumper to clear these hurdles, although he may seek a boost from the “fair use” doctrine in his quest for a copyright. (This is a long-shot, too—he would likely claim that his design is a parody of Apple’s, but this editor, for one, gives better-than-average odds that any court would find it a derivative work, and therefore infringing on Apple’s rights.)]

Adeli has been selling items featuring the image on the Internet, but he says that 100 percent of proceeds sales go to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network; Thornley has also reportedly been selling products with the image for a cancer charity.

That’s what these guys say. Will Apple “think different”?

We’ll be watching this one.

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October 19th, 2011 at 11:06 am