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April fools! Apple sues Free Software Foundation for trademark infringement

by Free Software Foundation Contributions Published on Mar 31, 2016 12:51 PM
Post-publication note: this is an April fools post. None of it is true. Well, except the part about Apple actually mistreating users, attacking competing firms and barring GPL-protected software from their app store.

Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA -- Friday, April 1, 2016 -- Yesterday, Apple filed a federal lawsuit alleging trademark infringement for the name of the free program GNU Emacs, for which the FSF holds copyright under the GNU General Public License (GPL). In the filing, Apple’s litigation team claimed that the name of the program was too similar to that of Apple’s defunct desktop computer, the eMac.

GNU Emacs, whose name stands for "editing macros," is an iconic free text editor first released by Richard Stallman in 1985. The eMac, short for "education Mac," was sold by Apple from 2002 to 2006 and ran Apple’s proprietary operating systems, OS 9 and OS X.

“We honestly don’t understand why Apple is doing this now” said FSF office manager Jonathan Tuttle. “They haven’t even made an eMac since 2006. It feels retaliatory.”

Indeed, the FSF has been a thorn in Apple’s side for decades, decrying its obsessive use of software patents to attack competing firms, its affinity for Digital Restrictions Management, and the restrictive licensing terms in its App Store, which bar free software protected by the GPL. Apple has been involved in trademark and patent cases almost constantly for the life of the company, most famously against the Apple Corps record label and more recently against Samsung.

The FSF plans to fight the suit in court. Experts have already pointed out a critical weakness in the trademark claim: Emacs was published more than a decade before the eMac existed. Apple is yet to put forward a counterargument.

Recently unsealed documents reveal a long secret history of trademark dealings between Apple and the FSF. In 2009, Apple offered FSF founder Richard Stallman US $1 million for the use of his preferred moniker for Apple products, “iThings,” in its upcoming advertising campaign. Stallman refused the offer.

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Jonathan Tuttle
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Free Software Foundation
April Fools
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