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?


keith richardson

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Apple has its service manuals at their download server-now you need Service Source login.


What about after the 1 year of warranty?
I must agree, it’s copyrighted material but it could help some people with some technical skills to repair small problems with their mac after their warranty has expired.
As for the mistake, people make mistakes all the time, it’s not like they say to their technicians to put the processor up side down or anything.

Also i don’t think many people would trust any guy with a manual to repair their warranted mac instead of going to the closest apple store, and personally, i will not take a screw driver to a g5 any time soon.
Too much fuss about a little problem if you ask me.

D Pat

Totally agree.. marketplace makes the rule.. without
some sort of DRM or other trademark protection
chaos will ensue if it hasn’t already.

D Pat
Digital Vastoo – For All Your iPod Needs


As far as Apple are concerned you have no reason to open up your computer and have ANY need for a service manual, the only people who need that are certified technicians. Its not a place for the consumer to go, but if you really want to there are of course sites online that do dismantle machines.

My point is, do Sony tell you how to crack open a Viao? No of course not, and even if they did how far would they go? How much would they tell you?

You see every company cuts corners every now and again but they don’t all scream and shout about it do they?


All is fair in love and war … and the marketplace. Business is not bound by the rules of fair play.

Apple’s biggest threat (and Honda’s and Boeing’s for that matter) are its competitors who have entire departments devoted to reverse engineering and counterintelligence. Each seeks to gain a competitive advantage over the other, so everyone is trying to learn about everybody else’s products to identify things like the state of technology, costs, and profit margins.

Apple’s competitors already know MacTel inside-out. That is a foregone conclusion. What’s puzzling is that they would go to these lengths to shield information from consumers, only a small percentage of which would be willing to void their warranty for DIY repairs.

Personally, I think the cover-up is an attempt to hide manufacturing foibles from prospective buyers.


Trademark protection doesn’t enter the picture here. Apple is using copyright law to prevent the distribution of their copyrighted material without their permission. This is the same reason that distributing MP3 files of copyrighted music is still illegal even if you don’t charge anything for the copies. You aren’t allowed to distribute the copyrighted material unless you own the copyright or secure permission from the copyright holder. You automatically have copyright on materials you produce, event if you don’t try and protect those rights in all cases, under U.S. law (until it expires a long, long time from now) although you can give blanket permission for anyone to use your copyrighted material (this is different than material being in the public domain which means there is no copyright holder).

Trademark law would apply if someone else was using Apple’s trademarks (name, logo, tag lines, etc.) in a way that implied Apple sponsorship, approval, compatability, etc. without their approval. A simple example would be Xerox going after other copier manufacturers that used “xerox” as a verb for “copy” in their advertising implying that their machines produce copies identical in quality to copies made on a Xerox machine. In this case, the other copier maker is trading on the public trust in Xerox’s trademarks (the company name in this case) to make their products look better to potential customers. In the case of trademarks. To keep trademark protection, you have to actively work to inform infringing parties and pursue all cases.

I’ll assume that Apple doesn’t want to widely distribute the service manuals because they may have technical details they don’t want to release to their competitors and they may sense a potential conflict with their warranty because the user manual clearly states which components are user serviceable/upgradeable (e.g., RAM) in the MacBook Pro. The service manual provides information on parts that are not user serviceable under Apple’s warranty. If they were to distribute this information to end users it could be argued that they are giving tacit approval for customers to service their own machines in ways that would normally break the warranty coverage. Then someone sues Apple when they deny the warranty repair on a machine that is fried due to the misapplication of thermal paste by the customer. In court, they argue that Apple provided them with the information on how to perform the thermal paste fix and didn’t properly notify them that this would break the warranty. Something like that, I would guess.

Dan Lurie

I’ve been repairing macs for over a year, professionally, and only once or twice have I had to check the service source. Most macs are pretty easy to take apart. Plus, sites like pbfixit have better guides anyway.

Todd Baur

I don’t like DRM either, but it is the only solution that exists that protects against theft of IP and material. That’s why I say necessary evil, it’s still evil, but it’s still necessary.


I too don’t think that the ASM qualifies as intellectual property. It’s not really an internal document, as first it exists on the Web, and second, because it’s distributed to Apple repair techs. (Some of those folks work at AARs, right?) The lawyers are wrong and should lay off. The manual is wrong! Someone get a tech writer on the horn here!


“necessary evil” is not an excuse for EVIL !


Hmm as much as I love Apple it seems to me that they should be looking at that manual and noticing how wrong it is (in regards to the thermal paste application) and perhaps fixing it before going crazy about how the manual is copyrighted.

Some EVIL EVIL person STOLE your COPYRIGHTED manual and pointed out a MISTAKE. Even tho ‘evil’ and ‘stole’ and ‘copyrighted’ are important words, ‘mistake’ is by far the one that stands out to me.


The thing is that if you do it yourself warrenty is no longer valid so why would u need it? Apple is not the only one doing like that uu want get the service manual for dell or hp either.

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