On Tuesday August 21, 2012, three websites were shut down and seized by federal officials because of pirated phone apps present on the digital devices. This is the first time the U.S. DOJ has taken websites down for selling or giving away mobile phone apps. While they have targeted websites and servers in the past for other reasons, this is the first case involving only mobile apps.
The websites affected were applanet.net, appbucket.net, and snappzmarket.com – all of which, at the time of this writing, simply display a message from the FBI about the takedown. Because some of the computers running the websites were located outside the United States, officials dealt with French and Dutch law enforcement officials. Additionally, a total of nine search warrants were executed in several states as part of the operation.
“Cracking down on piracy of copyrighted works, including popular apps, is a top priority of the Criminal Division,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer said in a statement recently.
He continued, “Software apps have become an increasingly essential part of our nation’s economy and creative culture, and the Criminal Division is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to protect the creators of these apps and other forms of intellectual property from those who seek to steal it.”
While law enforcement is covering the criminal aspect, there is also the possibility of filing a civil case in court to go after those who disregard copyright laws and sell or misuse the intellectual property of others – including mobile apps. If you remember, this practice is not limited to any one individual. Recently, Zyngawasfacingcopyrightinfringement charges over some of their games, notably The Ville.
History of Mobile App Piracy
As soon as mobile phone apps started to appear, there were those who started pirating the software. The fact that they were used on a cellphone and were typically not that expensive to buy didn’t stop many people from making the software available to others for a price – without giving the software developers or the copyright holder any of the proceeds.
Simple, small software was very easy to copy or “crack,” which is one of the reasons it became popular to do so. At the same time, more and more people were getting into mobile applications for their iPhone or Android cellphones, which made a tempting target for those who value money over copyright laws.
As you might imagine, a lot of the big players in the seedy underworld of pirated mobile apps used webservers that were not located in the United States in order to attempt to hide their criminal activity. However, because the FBI has such a good history of working with other countries when it comes to software piracy (except for China, perhaps), they have been able to go after those who are hosting mobile applications in other countries.
Changing Tech and Changing Laws
While copyright laws have been used to protect software since personal computers first became popular, there has been a slight hesitation to go after mobile app piracy. However, this is changing as more has been found out about how the illegal app networks and marketplaces are run online.
The Justice Department launched an IP Task Force in 2010 to protect intellectual property claims and to keep up with all the changing technology. Not everyone is happy about the practices that have happened, however. The American Civil Liberties Union has problems with the way that websites and servers have been seized in some cases.
In 2011, several websites that were innocent were inadvertentlytakendown while officials were going after an online child pornography ring. The DHS and DOJ law enforcement operation targeted a total of 10 websites that were providing explicit child pornography. While seizing those servers, they also took out another top level domain and everything that was hosted under it – at least temporarily.
Another problem that many people are having is with Google and Apply, who provide the frameworks for the mobile apps. the Yankee Group and Skyhook Wireless conducted a survey in 2011 with 75 Android developers. They found that more than half believed Google wasn’t doing enough to prevent piracy of mobile apps. Matt Gemmell has been quoted as saying, “People pirate Android apps because it’s easy.”
Future of Illegal App Downloads
What does this mean for the future of illegal smartphone app downloads? They are likely to continue, but this move by the FBI shows that they are actively working to take these websites off of the Internet. However, if you are a software developer and you know someone is stealing your Intellectual Property, you can go after the people doing it.
An IP attorney can help you protect your mobile app from piracy. Whenever you have intellectual property that is worth something or can generate revenue, you need to make sure you do everything you legally can to protect your assets. Hiring a professional intellectual property lawyer can allow you to know what you need to do and when you need to do it in order to protect your mobile apps or anything else you have copyrighted.
At Kelly / Warner Law, we have an experienced legal team that can answer any questions you have about mobile app piracy, intellectual property or any type of copyright infringement. We’re here to assist you. In the Information Age, it is important to do all that you can to protect your digital assets, even smartphone apps for iPhone or Android phones.