Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan sued Apple Computer in 1995

Carl Sagan sued Apple Computer in 1995. Apple used ‘Carl Sagan’ as an internal code for the Power Macintosh 7100. After a cease-and-desist letter, Apple renamed it ‘BHA’, for Butt Head Astronomer. Sagan sued. Apple then changed the name to “LAW”, short for “Lawyers are Wimps”.

In 1994, engineers at Apple Computer code-named the Power Macintosh 7100 “Carl Sagan” in the hope that Apple would make “billions and billions” with the sale of the PowerMac 7100. The name was only used internally, but Sagan was concerned that it would become a product endorsement and sent Apple a cease-and-desist letter. Apple complied, but engineers retaliated by changing the internal codename to “BHA” for “Butt-Head Astronomer”. Sagan then sued Apple for libel, a form of defamation, in federal court.

The court granted Apple’s motion to dismiss Sagan’s claims and opined in dicta that a reader aware of the context would understand Apple was “clearly attempting to retaliate in a humorous and satirical way”, and that “It strains reason to conclude that Defendant was attempting to criticize Plaintiff’s reputation or competency as an astronomer. One does not seriously attack the expertise of a scientist using the undefined phrase ‘butt-head’.”

Sagan then sued for Apple’s original use of his name and likeness, but again lost. Sagan appealed the ruling. In November 1995, an out-of-court settlement was reached and Apple’s office of trademarks and patents released a conciliatory statement that “Apple has always had great respect for Dr. Sagan. It was never Apple’s intention to cause Dr. Sagan or his family any embarrassment or concern.” Apple’s third and final code name for the project was “LAW”, short for “Lawyers are Wimps”.

Sagan briefly served as an adviser on Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey. 168 Sagan proposed that the film suggest, rather than depict, extraterrestrial superintelligence.

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