Apple Service Manuals in the public’s hands

The Register is reporting on Apple Legal handing the hammer to SomethingAwful’s forum post on MBP thermal grease expunging how-to. Specifically at issue is a link to another domain and web site containing a copyrighted service manual Apple gives to certified technicians. Aside from the issue, it brings up another problem with Apple’s policy on these manuals. It’s completely wrong.
Apple’s concern on releasing the manuals (sometimes called ASM’s) to the general public according to The Register’s quote from Apple Legal, “The Service Source manual for the MacBook Pro is Apple’s intellectual property and is protected by US copyright law”. This protection is the dream work of the legal team themselves, in part due to the structure of trademark law. In short, if Apple doesn’t protect their trademark in all situations then it sets a precedent for losing protection. (Feel free to correct my language here, as I’m certainly no expert on IP law).
Unfortunately, Apple’s stance on this is a common practice and has been for many years. I blame the auto industry for this, because the only way to legitimately get a service manual for a car is to purchase it at an exorbitant fee (My car’s manual was $200). Apple could do the same, offering the manuals through the “Apple Store for IT Pros” if one existed. I don’t think $200 would be the right price though. The manuals, if needed, could be wrapped in Acrobat’s DRM scheme to protect them. I wouldn’t want that, but unfortunately DRM is a necessary evil.
If the Internet has taught us anything is that information plays a vital role in the success of our daily lives. Remember having to call several theaters to find out which movie time was best? With the advent of the internet, not only do you get the movie’s play time, but a critique from four hundred people who already saw it, the times it plays at all theaters in a 50 mile radius, ticket prices, and more than you’ll ever want to know or comprehend all on one document.
The service manuals for Apple gear should be made more available to the general public. Giving access to it would only help Apple in the scheme of things. I’m sure the expense of technical support would decrease if those of us who used these manuals were capable of performing repairs on our own. After all, didn’t the customer pay for the machine? After I upgraded my Powerbook’s hard drive I had a problem with ejecting CD’s. If I didn’t have access to the manual I couldn’t have identified where things went wrong. Aside from logos and brand names, there isn’t much that needs protecting in these manuals.
I realize that general human nature would say something like “Well if I break it, I’ll try to blame Apple and they’ll just fix it” which sometimes we customers can get away with. The case for this thought being right or wrong isn’t the question here, but whether Apple Legal and Applecare see this as a threat because of availability of ASM’s. I’m positive this is the driving rational for the guarded nature of these documents. Yet, Leveno a.k.a IBM PC maker spin-off has no problem or concern for making service manuals freely available. This is an excellent example that it can be done with little legalese needed. Leveno surely must have mitigated the threat then, or they are building unbreakable computers! No, they believe that people should have access to ALL pertinent information about their purchase, as well as freedom of information. Shouldn’t Apple do the same?

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