June 14, 2007: Paul McCartney sings his new song “Dance Tonight” in an iPod + iTunes ad, the latest in a series of spots starring music industry legends.
The new animated ad signifies a thawing of the icy relationship between Apple and McCartney, whose original band The Beatles has been locked in a legal battle with Cupertino for decades.
The McCartney ad was just the latest example of a celebrity showcase in an Apple commercial. At around the same time, U2 and Bob Dylan both appeared in Apple adverts.
These star-driven spots didn’t lean on archival footage of popular songs. Instead, the musicians performed new material for Apple’s use.
Apple had utilized celebrities (including Dick Cavett) to sell its products since the very beginning. What made these new iTunes ads different was that Apple no longer paid artists to appear.
By this point, Apple was a cool enough brand that being associated with the company was a real draw for artists. Plus, gaining broad TV exposure for a song via an iTunes ad introduced artists to whole new audiences. On the back of iTunes appearances, even established artists typically sold far more albums than on previous releases.
Paul McCartney: Bigger than iJesus
The McCartney ad proved a particularly big coup. A month earlier, Apple revealed that the former Beatle would distribute his music on iTunes for the first time.
“Paul McCartney is one of the greatest musicians of all time, and we’re extremely excited to offer his first digitally distributed album on iTunes,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement.
A brief history Apple vs. The Beatles legal battle
The announcement suggested that The Beatles’ music would soon come to iTunes — although that didn’t happen for another few years.
As I’ve written before in “Today in Apple history,” Apple and The Beatles “enjoyed” a lengthy legal battle. Just as with the Macintosh and the iPhone, Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s choice of “Apple Computer” for their company name proved contentious. The Beatles’ record label had operated under the name Apple Corps since 1968.
Soon after the launch of the Apple II, Apple Corps filed a lawsuit protecting its name. The two sides settled in 1981, with Apple Computer paying Apple Corps $80,000 and agreeing not to enter the music business.
Relations between the two business entities stayed OK until 1986, when Apple added MIDI and audio recording to the Mac and Apple II product lines.
In February 1989, Apple Corps sued Cupertino again, claiming that the 1981 agreement had been violated. In particular, the company singled out the Mac Plus, Mac SE and Mac II, as well as the Apple IIGS, AppleCD SC drive and Apple’s MIDI device, as breaking the deal.
Apple again found itself forced to pay Apple Corps — this time a far more significant $26.5 million. (Apple tried to pass this bill to its insurance company, along with $8.5 million in legal fees. This resulted in a separate lawsuit, which got resolved in April 1999 by a California appeals court. Apple lost again.)
The end of animosity between Apple and The Beatles?
To settle this Apple Corps lawsuit, Apple signed a deal it thought brought long-running protection from the record label’s demands. Apple Computer could manufacture and sell devices that “reproduce, run, play or otherwise deliver such content” so long as the music wasn’t on physical media.
Relations stayed cordial until the mid-2000s, when the iTunes Music Store was well on its way to becoming the biggest music retailer in the United States. This prompted a final lawsuit from Apple Corps. This time, Apple won based on the fact that iTunes didn’t sell any physical media.
The two parties ultimately reached a deal in February 2007. Later that year, McCartney’s music began popping up in the iTunes Music Store.
McCartney’s performance of “Dance Tonight,” from his 2007 album Memory Almost Full, for the iTunes ad followed. The Beatles’ albums arrived on iTunes a few years later.