Astronomer Carl Sagan had a thing about the word "billion." He pronounced it in a particular way, and "billions and billions" sort of became his catchphrase, so he wrote a book with that title. In 1994, when Apple wanted their new computer to sell billions of units, they codenamed it "Carl Sagan." A nice harmless homage, right?

Not so, said Carl Sagan, who threatened legal action. He didn't want anyone to think he was endorsing the product. "Carl Sagan" was just an internal codename, and Apple never used it in ads, so this was a misplaced fear, but Apple backed down. They gave the computer a new codename: BHA, or "Butt-Head Astronomer."

Now, Sagan really did sue. He accused Apple of libel, which is a very specific offense in American courts, and mocking someone with a silly nickname absolutely does not constitute libel. 

The judge addressed the matter as seriously as he could. Given that "butt-head astronomer" doesn't really denigrate Sagan's professional skills, "The only remaining assertion is the bare statement that Plaintiff is a 'butt-head astronomer.' Clearly this phrase cannot rest on a core of objective evidence. Plaintiff does not suggest any other assertions of objective fact that could be reasonably implied from the phrase."

Having failed with this lawsuit, Sagan made good on his original threat and sued Apple for using his likeness. This suit failed as well. But with the appeals dragging on, and Apple risking losing points with the crucial nerd demographic, the company agreed on a settlement. The legal team also put out a statement affirming their respect for Carl Sagan. 

Apple's developers then chose a new codename for their computer: LaW, or "Lawyers are Wimps." 

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Top image: NASA

 

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