Mac Musings

Kihei Pictures Pulled

1999.09.30 - Daniel Knight

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

- The First Amendment to the US Constitution

Apple doesn't appreciate the independent pro-Mac websites. They don't see us as friends, but as enemies.

My first "official" dealing with Apple came after publishing an article that explained how the serial number of every Apple product can tell you where and when it was made. The two letter prefix indicates which plant it was built in. Another character is the last digit of the year, and two other digits indicate the week of the year when it was assembled.

When I published that information, along with the key to which character code applied to which factory, I heard from Apple legal. They consider this information, which has been on email groups and other websites, a trade secret. So I removed the article. And I won't tell you which digits represent the year and week - it's a secret.

Speculation vs. Rumor

The iMac has fallen on hard times. How many months has it been since the iMac was on PC Data's best selling computer list?

Traffic to iMac-related websites has been down, too - another indication people are no longer excited about last year's hot computer.

So, as we've done since before the first iMac shipped, we speculate. Will the next iMac have a bigger monitor? Or maybe DVD? And what about a G4 processor? Will it finally ship with enough memory? Might it have FireWire?

Some sites go a step beyond speculation into rumors. They work with sources in and near Apple, trying to get inside information on the next Mac OS revision, the next motherboard design, when the iBook will finally ship, and what the next iMac will really be like.

Apple usually ignores the rumor sites, at least officially. And sometimes they play games, seeding rumors to see who picks them up, which helps Apple discover the source of the leaks.

It's a dead serious game that can cost people their jobs or land them in court.


Over the past months, we've been eagerly anticipating a new iMac. Maybe Apple will announce it on August 15, the anniversary of the original iMac's release. Or maybe at Macworld or Seybold or in France.

Frankly, the iMac is no longer a hot product. Apple needs something new for the upcoming holiday season.

Everyone knows it.

So it's no surprise that several sites have published what they claim are the finals specs of a possible trio of iMacs - nor that someone would get their hands on a picture and publish it.

And the picture would appear on sites all over the web within hours.

Suddenly, Apple's lawyers are interested in the independent pro-Mac sites, both rumor sites and news sites. They send email. They make phone calls. They threaten legal action.

At least that's what my wife tells me. I haven't yet seen the email, although Sue Runfola of Apple legal claims to have sent one. At least that's what my wife says, based on a message on our answering machine.

Even though I haven't heard directly from Apple yet, this is good enough for me. The picture is gone, replaced with the one to the right.

And I'm not happy with Apple Computer.

A Free Press

Over 200 years ago, the United States government added the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution. It promises freedom to speak one's mind and freedom to publish one's opinions, something we see a lot of on the Internet.

And Apple doesn't seem to like it.

In the worlds of news and academia, there's something called "fair use". It allows you to excerpt a portion of a published work without the explicit permission of the copyright holder, but with some restrictions. The material used must be only a portion of the new work.

So you're allowed to quote a bit from the New York Times or an Apple press release, as long as it appears within some context (see MacWeek for a great example). It was in this way that I used an image from the site, reducing it so the file was a fraction of the original size, and using it with commentary and a link to MacNews and AppleInsider, which were both displaying the huge version of the picture.

Apple claims to have somehow protected the appearance of the iMac, which is how they killed the eOne. But they have a whole different issue to deal with here: Can Apple control the use of photos of its hardware?

On the one hand, if the photos that appeared on these sites came from Apple Computer, they were undoubtedly copyrighted. Use of these photos may constitute copyright violation - or it could be fair use. That's for lawyers to decide.

The courts have consistently held that public figures cannot prevent others from taking pictures of them and publishing those photos. That's the price of fame.

I would argue that the iMac certainly qualifies as a public figure, albeit an inanimate one. Still, this would only apply to photos not owned by Apple Computer, not to copyrighted ones leaked from Apple's offices.


All this seems symptomatic of Apple's attitude toward independent pro-Mac sites. They would rather engage us in court than engage us in conversation.

Very few individuals not employed by Apple Computer do more good for Apple computer than the dozens of independent Mac webmasters. We advocate. We defend. We go on the offensive when someone dumps on the Mac. We could be one of the most potent tools in Apple's arsenal.

Instead, we're ignored or threatened.

I'm tired of it.

I'm going to take a few days off from advocating for Apple, from updating the home page, from keeping Low End Mac current. I'm going to leave the home pages alone for a few days while I rethink my participation in the dysfunctional relationship between Apple Computer and Mac Webmasters.

Apple's attitude that it need to control things and put the right spin on things is tiresome. Apple never asks without at the same time threatening - this is not the sign of a healthy relationship.

Their reality distortion field and my commitment to integrity are sometimes at odds.

Just look at Steve Jobs' statement on September 15 that iBooks were shipping. Everyone took it at face value. Twelve days later, the first iBooks reached users - and only customers of the Apple Store at that.

Where they shipping? Yes, but not to dealers or customers. On September 15, the iBooks were shipping from factories in Taiwan to Apple's warehouse.

This is the kind of technical correctness we expect from politicians, from Microsoft, but not from Apple Computer.

Same goes for the Power Mac G4 being "immediately available" when Steve Jobs announced them at Seybold on August 31. Available? My dealer couldn't place an order that day, nor get it for almost two weeks.

I used to sell computers, especially Macs. I remember when they introduced the Classic, LC, and IIsi. They made sure every dealer could have one of each machine to show. The LC was constrained, but we had inventory on the Classic and IIsi on introduction day.

As recently as last summer, the iMac was actually available to purchase on its release date. The same may apply to the Blue and White G3. But that's no longer the case. Instead, Apple strings us along with technically correct but misleading lines and vague release dates.

Apple, have fun equivocating and spinning. Loyal fans are growing tired of it. But it's your future - will you build it on honesty or by stretching the truth?

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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