Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Feds seize Android app marketplaces Applanet, AppBucket in piracy sting

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Federal investigators have seized three Android software storefronts, alleging the sites illegally distributed copies of copyrighted mobile applications and games.

The U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation and other domestic and international law enforcement agencies coordinated the piracy sting, executing seizure orders against three sites: Applanet, AppBucket and SnappzMarket. Their respective domain names are now in federal government custody; site visitors are now greeted by a seizure banner warning consumers that willful copyright infringement is a federal crime carrying penalties of five years in prison and $250,000 fines for first-time offenders.

"Criminal copyright laws apply to apps for cell phones and tablets, just as they do to other software, music and writings," said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates of the Northern District of Georgia. "These laws protect and encourage the hard work and ingenuity of software developers entering this growing and important part of our economy. We will continue to seize and shut down websites that market pirated apps, and to pursue those responsible for criminal charges if appropriate." The DOJ adds the seizures are the first involving mobile app storefronts.

Investigators said FBI agents downloaded thousands of pirated apps from the three stores during the course of the probe. In most cases, the servers storing the apps were hosted in countries outside the U.S., with international law enforcement partners helping obtain or seize evidence contained on those servers. Nine additional search warrants were executed in six different districts across the U.S. as part of the operation.

Android Police reports Applanet was the best known of the three stores, promoting a catalog of 15,000 Android apps and amassing more than 88,000 Facebook fans and 21,000 Twitter followers. SnappzMarket and AppBucket were considerably smaller, with 16,400 Facebook friends and 492 Facebook fans respectively, although SnappzMarket advertised access to more than 50,000 Android apps.

Piracy has plagued the Android platform since Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) first launched the open-source operating system in the autumn of 2008. According to a 2011 Yankee Group report, 27 percent of Android developers contend piracy is a huge problem, and another 26 percent believe it is somewhat of a problem--moreover, about a third of developers say piracy has cost them more than $10,000 in revenue.

Last month, startup Madfinger Games relaunched its Android title Dead Trigger as a free download, transitioning away from premium pricing as a result of Google Play storefront piracy. The firm explained the switch to the free install model in a Facebook post, writing "The main reason: piracy rate on Android devices, that was unbelievably high. At first we intend to make this game available for as many people as possible--that's why it was for as little as a buck… However, even for one buck, the piracy rate is soooo giant, that we finally decided to provide Dead Trigger for free."

Google unveiled Android 4.1 (a.k.a. Jelly Bean) earlier this summer. The operating system update promises new encryption capabilities designed to reduce piracy risks alongside a host of additional improvements and new features.

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