back to article Apple legal threat to Steve Jobs doll deemed 'bogus'

It appears that Apple's threatened lawsuit against the Chinese manufacturer of a Steve Jobs action figure may be baseless. At least in the US. At least in most states. "Apple's legal claim is largely bogus," writes Jeff Roberts for the digital-content watchdog, The interwebs were abuzz on Thursday about The …


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  1. a_been

    Is this another one of those made up stories? Is there a single named quote or is it another case of someone at Apple liking Star Wars and El Reg reporting that Apple is building a Death Star?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Damnit, I knew it..

      Apple are building a Death Star?

      Oh well at least it'll be stylish.

      1. Martin 71 Silver badge

        Won't actually work, but it'll be stylish.

        Of course it'll work if you buy the optional internal battery (which MUST be fitted by an approved service partner).

        It'll also use a non standard connector

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      I wanted one to hang off the mirror inside my car,.hoping it would have a loop on the head to tie it on.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Aqua Marina

        I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought....

        ... hang it from a noose around it's neck!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The comments in the linked article by Mr Roberts also make for a good read for those interested in other legal opinions regarding publicity rights.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good analysis but with a different conclusion from a professor of law specialised in this topic:

    1. a_been

      Any evidence that the original story is anything more than PR?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Under American law"

    Good god! When did we let them have their own laws? Presumably if you take off the cover you can see it's really UK law that's simply been re-badged.

    They'll be claiming they have their own language next.

    1. David 45


      I always knew the Americans couldn't handle independence!

      Seriously, folks. The other (even more life-like) "doll" was legally clobbered by Apple also but why? If it was me, I'd have been flattered and milked the situation for all it was worth. It's only sour grapes that someone else may possibly be making money out of an Apple connection and that person isn't Apple. Control is their watchword and they get most upset if they can't have it.

      1. a_been

        @David 45

        Can you point out a single thing to prove this story isn't some PR spin by the toy maker. Oh yeah it's Apple, the company known for speaking to the press. Their PR is so fucking good they get to spin things without saying anything.

        Not like some unknown company would tell people they are getting sued by Apple for PR. After all we all heard about the toy before the rumor of Apple suing anyone, right!

    2. admiraljkb

      American Law isn't exactly homogenous

      Well, kindof an interesting story there, and borderline off topic for this, but good pub trivia. Not all of the US has English Common Law as a base. Texas has Spanish Common Law as its legal base. :) Louisiana is French/Spanish, and (by memory) the US Southwest (former Spanish colonies) is also Spanish Common law except for California which forcibly legislated English Common law for political reasons...

      1. Politely Skeptical

        not exactly, admiral

        There's no such thing as "Spanish Common Law" -- you're thinking of what's known as "civil law" and you're incorrect as to its reach in the US.

        Louisiana is the only state that uses civil law as the basis for its lawmaking; Texas and the Southwestern states use common law. California did indeed codify the common law in its early history; not for political reasons, but to replace existing civil law from the Mexican and Spanish periods. That said, common law as it developed in the Western states has been influenced by Spanish civil law, most notably in the areas of community property and water rights.

    3. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

      They'll be claiming they have their own language next.

      It's called mangleish

  5. ElNumbre

    Watch out...

    "Apple may have no rights to Jobs' name either. As Roberts points out, Apple's own list of the 178 terms for which it enjoys trademark rights doesn't have its cofounder's name on it."

    No doubt they'll be correcting this oversight shortly. Also presumably they'll file to protect the wearing of a black polo and blue jeans.

    Better watch out if your name is Steve, Steven or Stephen Jobs. They're also coming for you - best start saving now if you want to keep your name...

    (I was going to use the Joke Alert icon, but now I think about it, I worry that this post may turn out to be true).

    1. a_been



      Give some proof this story is more than BS

      (I was going to use a dick alert, but hell why bother)

      1. Intractable Potsherd


        The only troll here seems to be you. Now go away and play nicely with your toys, there's a good boy.

  6. Christoph

    Why Apple?

    I can see that his heirs might possibly have some rights to his name and image, but why should the company that someone works for have rights in them after their death?

    1. Dave Bell

      Some of this should be pretty damn obvious. Hollywood is in California and, even without the craziness surrounding such things as movie piracy, there is some point in giving this protection to such people as actors. It seems to have died off, but there was once a lot of speculation about the face of a famous actor could be appearing in films after he died, through looming computer graphics tech. There are actors who have died during the production of a film, and some ingenious work done to finish the film--voice imitations, careful use of long-shots, that sort of thing--and protecting a likeness does set out the basis for dealing with these things.

      Apple wouldn't want a fake Steve Jobs making adverts for rival companies.

      But this seems to go way beyond the obvious reasons for such a law. You can start with setting up the rights needed for somebody to be able to make a deal, or put an enforceable clause in a contract. And then a bunch of politicians get bought, and a few lawyers make ingenious arguments in court, to get the best for their clients, and the result starts to seem insane.

      1. Graham Marsden

        @Dave Bell

        "There are actors who have died during the production of a film, and some ingenious work done to finish the film--voice imitations, careful use of long-shots, that sort of thing--and protecting a likeness does set out the basis for dealing with these things."

        There was also Plan 9 From Outer Space...!

        1. John I'm only dancing
          Thumb Up

          Nice reference

          That's why I've upvoted you Graham....Would have given two thumbs up if you'd mentioned "The Creeping Terror" as well.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Graham Marsden

          "There are actors who have died during the production of a film....

          Well, the only one I can think of is Oliver Reed in Gladiator, didn't they CGI his face onto a body double for the film.

          There is also the CGI route as well, didn't Lucas use CGI in a scene in one of the Star Wars films (a new hope???) where Han Solo steps over Jabba's tail?

          I wonder why I thought of Jobba..... eh... Jabba the Hutt, the intergalactic crime lord and gangster who uses a retinue of criminals, yes -men... eh yes-aliens, and bodyguards to operate his criminal empire. And he wasn't particularly fond of androids either.

          1. Graham Marsden


            Apart from the aforementioned Plan 9 there was also The Crow, for instance, where Brandon Lee's face was added by CGI onto the body of a stand in after Lee was accidentally shot.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If American corporations can take life insurance policies out on their employees without their knowledge of consent then why should that surprise anyone.

      America inc, bought and paid for.

      1. Eddy Ito

        @Norfolk 'n' Goode

        That only happens when the house doesn't do the odds right and sets the quarter slot machine to pay out an average of $10 for every 39 pulls of the lever. Now I won't pull the lever 4 million times trying to win a million dollars but a company with half million arms might.

        That said with an insurance policy being a private contract, I don't know of any law stopping any person or company from taking out a life insurance policy on anyone else at any time for any reason. The caveat is, of course, that should that policy pay out under suspicious circumstances, the police will have a rather interesting set of questions for the beneficiary. It doesn't make it less morally questionable but business wise it looks more like an anti-pension in that the company gets a monetary gain if the employee dies before retirement rather than after.

        1. bobbles31

          You can't take out an insurance policy to gain, only to protect against losses. Companies can and quite rightly do take out key man i insurance to insure the lives of people working for those corporations. The point is to minimise the losses to the company should some really important personnel be hit by a bus.

          As for rights I think that Apple would struggle to prove that Steve Jobs is their trademark, imagine if they won. Any company with an employee who is deemed to be the "face" of that company would then be able to sue that person if they moved to a different company.

          I'm thinking of premiership football managers, or even players not being able to appear on tv following a transfer.

    3. Lewis Mettler

      heirs or perhaps his estate

      It is possible that his heirs or perhaps his estate may have some rights. But, not Apple.

      Apple is just blowing smoke.

      I suppose Jobs could have assigned some personal rigths to Apple but I seriously doubt that.

  7. Efros

    I wonder

    what the dead peasant, sorry essential personnel, payout for Jobs might have been.

  8. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Apple's Plan B to register the Cult of Jobs as a religion in Sweden and then claim whatever protections are afforded to deities and prophets.

  9. g e

    I'm sure apple would be happy for it to be sold

    If they got 30% of each sale

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So I can still call what I turn our every morning a 'jobbie' but I can't call it a 'stevie' without Hunt, Lunt & Cunningham sending me cease & desist letters.

    Somehow appropriate - as the latter did all the work and is therefore less deserving of the title.

  11. admiraljkb

    The Steve Jobs estate is what has legal standing.

    I noticed the lack of legal standing issue right away, and I've just had a couple semesters of pretty boring Business law AGES ago... If Apple's real attorneys can't, they're in big trouble. Apple can't sue over Steve Jobs likeness regardless of whether Steve Jobs was alive or dead. They don't have legal standing since they aren't Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs (and now his estate) would have to sue. If Apple's board votes to send funding and attorneys for Jobs's estate to sue, that's one thing, but Apple itself doesn't have the legal standing to sue.

    This does make me question all the suits being filed though if Apple's attorneys seem to have a competency/credibility problem here.

    1. a_been

      Here is a clue, the important word in the original story was "allegedly". Or in other words "someone told someone that something happened but lets put Apple in it for pageview so we can make money"

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It appears iShite isn't on the list, they must use the toilet like everyone else!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Don't need a toilet, just a rose bed, don't you know that a fanboi's jobbie smells of roses.... well the fanbois think it does.

  13. wheel

    Apple's claim was always spurious

    If I recall, Apple's legal team wrote that selling the doll would be 'a criminal offence', which is so patently untrue that I am amazed any legal department would have been responsible for it.

    It is, at most, a civil offence or (tort), and only then in jurisdictions which allow post-mortem personality rights. So while the doll certainly could not be sold or advertised in, say, Indiana without risk of (civil) legal proceedings (Indiana law has personality rights which extend 100 years post-mortem), it could certainly be sold in some other states without any realistic prospect of litigation. The 'single publication' rule cited on the 'Right of Publicity' site above might apply, but if the products are not available within a jurisdiction with suitable personality rights laws, no case could succeed in the first place.

    And, of course, this doesn't affect the world outside the US anyway, as separate cases would have to be brought in each international jurisdiction, where local laws permit.

    But here's the thing – most 'ordinary' people are not likely to want to spend the best part of $100 on a Steve Jobs doll. Those who would might actually prefer it if it was difficult to get hold of, as it would become more exclusive, so more 'collectable'. If the threat of litigation prevents the doll's legal sale in California, I doubt it would affect sales too much.

    (Two things: first IANAL, though, apparently, I understand the difference between a criminal offence and a civil tort better than Apple's lawyers. Secondly, the Steve Jobs doll was pictured with an iPhone prop, and Apple would be able to sue for that everywhere; I suspect it might not ship with something that looks exactly like an iPhone.)

    1. a_been

      Can you give a link to the article showing Apple's legal department are involved, so far i have only seen links to a telegraph article saying Apple may or may not sue. As far as I understand it, once someone dies there is no legal claim to their likeness. We will forget the fact that SJ name is not a trademark or the fact that they can put "this doll is not based on any living or dead person" as Hollywood does in every film.

      This story is total link bait of the highest quality.

      1. wheel

        It's working isn't it?...

        ...if you're reading it and commenting on it.

        No, of course I can't produce the letter, only what the Telegraph quoted it as saying.

        It may all be bullshit, but is the idea of Apple threatening spurious litigation that far-fetched?

  14. Chris 3

    I'll be launching my Colonel Sanders-based chicken restaurant...

    ... any day now.

    1. Zippy the Pinhead

      @Chris 3

      Except Colonel Sanders DID sell his likeness rights when he sold out in 1964 and he was only a figurehead. You probably picked the worst example! lol

  15. Chris Tierney

    Death Star

    Way back in the Mid 80s Apple had the Deathstar blueprint as their logo.

  16. Colin Wilson 2


    Did anyone actually read the Daily Telegraph article? It contains lines like:

    "But 'their efforts have reportedly met with' a legal challenge with Apple allegedly threatening to sue the toy maker unless they cease trading."

    Reportedly? Allegedly?? Isn't that just Journo code for 'We made it up'?

    Of course, we'd all love it to be true :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Just what I was thinking.

      Is there any proof that Apple has made this threat?

    2. a_been


      This is el Reg, no wanker bothers with facts.

      1. Intractable Potsherd


        I think this may be the link you need:

        Stop taking things so seriously.

  17. Smithson

    Thank god Apple weren't able to patent jobs or we'd all be down the dole office

  18. Lamont Cranston

    Apple don't need a copyright on Jobs,

    as they've outsourced them all to China.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anne Summers?

    Is it true that a special version for Apple Fanbois will be available from Anne Summers?

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. big_D Silver badge
    IT Angle

    Steve ok, Apple not

    I beleive, they might not be able to do anything about the Steve doll itself, but wouldn't including the iPhone model and the Apple stickers as per the story last week be breaking Apple's trademarks?

    They might be able to sell the iDol(l), but they might need to remove the accessories.

  22. Zippy the Pinhead

    Unless he's also done so Apple would be crap out of luck. Jobs can't sign a contract giving Apple legal rights to his name after death.

  23. Armando 123

    So let me get this straight

    "Under American law," Roberts writes, "so-called 'personality rights' exist only at the state level – there is no federal law. And only about a dozen states recognize image rights after death."

    So this means that, for most states, we can sell a doll of any deceased member of a lawyer's or politician's family as a nazi or streetwalker (or both) and they have no say in it?

    1. Intractable Potsherd

      And why not?

      Dead people have no rights, and shouldn't have - it is part of the whole "being dead" thing.

      1. Jimbo 6

        But what about the Undead ?

        They could make a fortune suing the producers of all those zombie films.

        (Though the blood-sucking vampires who masquerade as lawyers would obviously take a large percentage.)

  24. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart


    Can they not do the same thing as the do in the films, and put a disclaimer on the box that any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental?

  25. Anonymous Coward


    "Apple had sent a letter ... which said in part that the company's use of late Apple cofounder's likeness was a 'criminal offense'."

    Right of Publicity (Personality Rights) infringements, similar to trademark and copyright issues are a civil matter, not a criminal one.

    Any party can choose to sue any other party in a civil court if they feel they have grounds to do so. This does not mean anyone has committed any criminal acts.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "You can't take out an insurance policy to gain, only to protect against losses. Companies can and quite rightly do take out key man i insurance to insure the lives of people working for those corporations. The point is to minimise the losses to the company should some really important personnel be hit by a bus."

    You can gain from such a policy if you over-value the employee and know the right sort of bus driver...

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