Mac Cards, the popular alternative to Apple's iCards Web service, has been forced to close down after legal intervention by Apple's lawyers in the UK. Apple's lawmen swooped just days after we reported its success during the run-up to St Patrick's Day.

The Mac Cards Web site has been online since the summer of 1999, pre-dating Apple's own iCards, which started in the US this January and in the UK a month later. Ecards - the generic term for Mac Cards and iCards - are pictorial messages sent via email.

Trademark violation Mac Cards was forced to pull down all content containing Apple trademarks or Apple-owned material. Under threat of legal action in the UK Simon Jones, webmaster and creator of the site, was informed on March 21 that the site was in violation of Apple trademarks and that Apple had no choice but to take legal action. Apple claimed that visitors would confuse the site with its own.

"My option was to cease using all Apple-owned trademarks and material, or face being sued by Apple," explained Jones. "To be fair, Apple did state that Mac Cards could continue as long as I did not use the Apple logo, the smiley face, the phrase 'Think different', or any Apple-owned images - and that I complied fully with all the rules and regulations set out on Apple's legal information and notices Web site.

Absurd claim "Personally, I understand Apple's need to protect its trademarks and its brand. However, I think that wading into this situation waving a lawsuit is somewhat of an overreaction. It seems a rather harsh way to deal with a site that aimed to promote the Macintosh and all other Apple products. To claim that I was somehow copying iCards is absurd."

"I have complied with all of Apple's demands but with a heavy heart," said Jones. "The site has been an amazing success and has given many people much enjoyment. It has been great fun creating the cards, which were all meant to do nothing but promote and champion the Mac and other Apple products," he added.

Although the action wouldn't prevent the site from continuing to offer ecards of some description, it would mean that the site would have to "radically change" its graphical content, according to Jones. However, Jones says he will not continue to develop Mac Cards because his "enthusiasm to promote the Mac or any Apple product through hours of unpaid hard work, has been completely destroyed".

Jones is clearly upset. "Perhaps, Apple can look at the destruction of this Mac-enthusiast Web site as a victory. However, I think it's sad that any company would treat it's loyal and faithful users in such a detached and tactless fashion."

Icon smasher Jones has received many supportive emails on his Mac Cards forum, including one wondering whether Apple may now wade in and slap law suits on Mac-enthusiast icon makers.

"If Apple offered an Icon download site, then icon houses like the IconFactory might meet the same fate," writes one supporter. "They often depict Apple-branded products on their site. Let's hope that the coincidence that your site resembled iCards was the only reason that they took this drastic action. Someone at Apple should have offered to "buy you out" long ago.