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Apple lawyers attack MacOS 8.x skinning code

Wants open source project closed down

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Apple has demanded the open source Mac Themes Project remove its MacOS theme editor from public servers.

The Mac maker alleges the code contributes to infringement of its intellectual property by allowing users to improperly copy its trademarks and copyrights. In Apple's words, it "enables third parties to create themes that are identical or confusingly similar to Apple's copyrighted and trademarked themes".

Apple also claims the code may be "a derivative work resulting from unauthorised reverse engineering of Apple's software".

The MCP's editor has been in development since 1998, when Apple introduced technology to permit new skins - it calls them 'themes' - to be applied to the MacOS user interface. To date, Apple has not exposed the theming API to third parties.

Why it's taken Apple so long to figure out there may be an issue with the MCP's work is anyone's guess, and that's certainly a question the project leaders want answering. They would also like to know why their software - which they claim uses no Apple copyright material - should be any more liable for the actions of its users than Apple's own iTunes is.

Apple will presumably say that its software is licensed solely on the understanding it is not used to infringe copyrights and trademarks, so any such action is outside the scope of its licence and so beyond its responsibility. Presumably it will be happy if MCP includes just such a get-out clause in its own licence.

On the reverse engineering charge, the MCP team claims its work is permitted by the doctrine of fair use.

As to allowing users to duplicate the MacOS look and feel, that hardly applies in this case, since the code - open source or no - is tightly dependent on the Mac OS. It's not even a standalone app. Porting it to, say, Linux would involve so many modifications it couldn't be considered a port so much as a total rewrite.

But that's not really the issue. Apple wants to prevent the code being used to make MacOS 9 look and feel like MacOS X's Aqua UI. Presumably, it feels they won't then buy MacOS X and upgrade to the new operating system. Which, since it implies users are only interested in the UI, isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the new OS' other features. ®

Related Link

The Mac Themes Project homepage

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