Apple legal objects to Aqua-like Windows skins, images

Aqua button
Apple legal counsel has requested a Windows software company remove all themes and screen shots of themes resembling the Mac OS X Aqua interface from its Web site, saying they violate Apple's intellectual property (IP).

Stardock Corporation Inc. has complied with part of the request, according to its president, Brad Wardell, and has asked Apple to further clarify guidelines as to what it considers to be IP violations so as to head off future violations before they are posted. The request from Apple came Thursday.

The themes, or 'skins' as many call them, essentially change the look of a user's computer, ranging from color to window sizes to icons and fonts. Stardock is the maker of DesktopX, a program that allows users to create their own customized desktop interface and also change its functionality. Stardock encourages Windows users to design themes and then submit them to the company for possible free distribution to others via the company's Web site.

"Apple sent us a letter that listed a bunch of skins in DesktopX themes that they found objectionable," Wardell told MacCentral. "The ones that they found objectionable we think are pretty borderline, but we removed those ... It's a fine line, so I asked them for guidelines for our volunteer moderators who post these skins."

Having removed the Apple-objectionable skins and themes, Wardell said he has "drawn the line" on removal of screen shots of the Aqua-like skins until he discusses the matter with his legal counsel and receives further clarification from Apple. One such skin resembles the OS X Aqua interface in its color, gray-striped window backgrounds, bluish bars and silver trash can.

A fine line

"If we're hosting the skin, they can certainly ask us to take it down. If we agree that it violates their IP rights, then by all means I want to comply," he said. "But I'm not sure at this point how I feel about removing screen shots. If we did that, then they would have to go to every Web site, e-zine and whatever to have screen shots of OS X Aqua removed."

Wardell is concerned how far the issue could go, being that many themes don't necessarily copy the Aqua interface completely, but have 'Aqua-inspired' features.

"That's where things get really murky," Wardell said. "What if we posted something that was inspired by Aqua, they objected and we remove it. If we do that for Apple, how do we know every single person that uploads something wasn't inspired by someone else's work? That creates an impossible situation for us to moderate ... Again, I am discussing this issue with Apple and my legal counsel."

While some of the icons Apple questioned could be violations, Wardell is not sure if Apple objected to the icon itself or the fact that it was found under the heading 'Aqua'.

Wardell: Apple has rights

Wardell was very clear to emphasize that Apple has rights in this matter and that it has not been unprofessional in its approach or dealings with Stardock.

"Every time a company tries to enforce their rights, they are always made out to be bad guys," he said. "The fact is Apple is trying to innovate and if you take away their incentive to innovate, it hurts everybody. I think it's good to see Apple, within limits, protect their rights."

"We very strongly believe Apple has rights to protect it's intellectual property up until they infringe on the rights of others," Wardell said. "We need to make sure we protect the rights of the 'skinny' community too."

An Apple spokesperson was not immediately available for comment for this story.

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