Butt-head astronomer once again
Date: Tue, 4 Oct 94 18:54:50 PDT
Subject: Butt-head astronomer once again
Forwarded-by: bostic@CS.Berkeley.EDU (Keith Bostic)
From: Dan Wallach <dwallach@CS.Princeton.EDU>
According to the Media Law Reporter, vol. 22, pp. 2141-2146,, the U.S.
District Court, Central District of California, has dismissed a libel
suit against Apple Computer brought by astronomer Carl Sagan.
Apple, in 93, had a product with the code name Carl Sagan. Once the
prominent astronomer learned of the unsanctioned use of his name by Apple,
he made a legal request they quit doing so. Then, according to the
court's opinion, Apple then started calling the product "butt-head
This is somewhat old news. The real scoop is in the language published
in the opinion. The judge J. Baird writes:
"Plantiff's libel action is based on the allegation that Defendant changed
the 'code name' on its personal computer from 'Carl Sagan' to 'Butt-Head
Astronomer' after plaintiff had request that Defendant cease use of
Plaintiff's name.... There can be no question that the use of the
figurative term 'Butt-Head' negates the impression that Defendant was
seriously implying an assertion of fact. 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.' Thus, the
figurative language militates against implying an assertion of fact....
Furthermore, the tenor of any communication of the information, especially
the phrase 'Butt-Head Astronomer,' would negate the impression that
Defendant was implying an assertion of fact."
The decision does not indicate what level of damages Sagan was seeking;
we can only assume that it was 'billions and billions' of dollars.
© 1994 Peter Langston