iPhone developers: apps cloned, Apple no help (updated x2) | iLounge News

2014 iPad iPhone iPod Buyers' Guide from iLounge.com

News

iPhone developers: apps cloned, Apple no help (updated x2)

Author's pic

By Charles Starrett

Contributing Editor
Published: Wednesday, March 25, 2009
News Categories: Apps + Games

iPhone developers are dealing with a new threat: duplicates of their applications being approved by Apple, and then released in the App Store as competitors. Citing an Apple Developer Forums thread in which app developers are complaining of their apps being downloaded, copied by other developers, and then re-posted to the store with either the same or very similar names, iLounge reader Zen Ho says that the cloning phenomenon is “being handled unsatisfactorily by Apple.” Ho cites TouchScan, an application cloned by a different developer’s “Touch Scan Pro,” reusing images, sound, and text from the original app; additionally, the developer of iCopter recently watched as both “iCopter Free”—now titled “Copter Free”—and “iCopter Classic” were released, further confusing consumers by using an only slightly modified version of the original iCopter’s logo. Thus far, Apple has been unwilling to help affected developers by removing the impostor applications, says Ho, and instead has told them “to sue the offenders themselves.” Ho sees it as “Apple’s duty to ensure that such plagiarism is rejected in the first place, and to at least take them down upon complaints,” noting that “it is scary to think that anyone developing for the platform can have their business stolen [at] anytime.”

Updated: In an e-mail response to iLounge, the developer of Touch Scan Pro has presented several counter-arguments to the ones made by Ho above. “I wrote Touch Scan Pro in 38 minutes,” explains Gary Fung, suggesting that due to the trivial time it took to copy Touch Scan, and the lack of originality in the original application’s graphics, name, and concept, all of which he claims were legally unprotectable, “[t]he author of Touch Scan simply cannot expect this amount of effort to earn him a living for the rest of his life.” Fung also claims that he developed the Pro application to make a statement about the lack of value that the original Touch Scan application offered. “I felt that consumers are not getting their $0.99 worth of utility from this app so I wrote one and gave it away for free,” said Fung. “For the first week Touch Scan Pro was free not as a trial or limited time offer. It was simply free. It was only until Markus started to harass me then I decided to change my mind.” Now Fung is charging the same $1 that he said the original program was not worth.

Update 2: Markus Stöbe, developer of the original Touch Scan, has weighed in with his own e-mail response: “What kind of difference does it make how long it took me to code TouchScan?... And it doesn’t make any difference if he thinks this is not original… it’s my work and hence it is protected by copyright. [M]y interpretation of the theme, regardless how long it took me, regardless if he doesn’t like it and regardless of the prize I ask for it: it is my work and it is protected… [he] did not start charging because I mailed him but because he wanted to make some quick bucks with someone elses work.”

« Blockbuster hopes to bring on-demand service to Apple lineup

iPhone generates one-third of worldwide, half of US handset traffic »

Related Stories

Comments

1

Zen Ho is right. I have no problem with Apple controlling the app distribution process. In fact, there are several advantages to the idea of"one-stop shop”. But if Apple is going to control the process, they have to protect it as well.

Posted by Dale on March 25, 2009 at 10:11 AM (PDT)

2

I couldn’t disagree more.  Apple is no more responsible for this than any other retailer that is selling software.  While they do put applications through a vetting process it is not designed to catch IP infringement.  To me this is similar to Wal-Mart choosing not to sell potentially offensive material but the simple act of filtering doesn’t mean they should be responsible for ensuring that MS Money hasn’t stolen IP from Quicken.  They sell both and the two companies are free to sue each other if necessary.

Posted by Jeff on March 25, 2009 at 10:55 AM (PDT)

3

I can certainly understand Zen Ho’s frustration, but his request seems rather unreasonable.  Apple approving applications as they are submitted is one thing… but expecting them to compare every submitted app to every other submitted app to look for possible content theft is ridiculous.  Even expecting them to do so upon request is asking too much.  What happens when the author of a copied app accuses the author of the original app of copying, and Apple decides to pull the original app from the app store?

Apple is right in this one.  It’s not their duty to play judge and jury on what are effectively IP violation cases.  If you think someone has copied your app (or graphics, or whatever), take them to court, sue them for damages, and get a court order to have the offending app removed from the app store.  Simple as that.

Posted by Andy S. on March 25, 2009 at 10:57 AM (PDT)

4

Jeff, you would be right if Apple apps were part of the free market. The idea that if you don’t like the distributor’s way of doing business, then you can go elsewhere works fine for Pocket PC’s or Palms, where you actually do have a choice on how your app is sold. But Apple gives developers no such choice. A developer MUST go through the Apple store. Otherwise, users have to hack their phones and other “unnatural” things if you want to go outside Apple’s control for installing apps.

So, if Apple wants to control the whole distribution process, if Apple wants all the profits from their cut of apps going though their store, then they MUST take responsibility if people are getting ripped off too.

Posted by Dale on March 25, 2009 at 12:10 PM (PDT)

5

When Apple is the exclusive official distributor of apps for the platform, it has some ability to know which came first—app one, or app two. It also unquestionably has the ability, and quite possibly a legal responsibility, to act to remove programs that violate copyrights. Developing a streamlined method for removing such materials should take far less time than it took to create the system it uses to distribute them and collect revenues from their unjust/unlawful sale.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 25, 2009 at 12:10 PM (PDT)

6

For all the problems it has and causes, this sounds like it’s what the DMCA takedown process is for. If they’re reusing your images/sounds/text, that’s a pretty clear infringement case; you inform Apple, Apple has to pull it unless/until the other developer files a counter notification. (If they do, well, you’re back to having to go after them directly…but they’ve also had to file that counter notification under penalty of perjury.)

I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, find a real lawyer and pay them money.

Posted by ckd on March 25, 2009 at 12:51 PM (PDT)

7

If you think your app was stolen or reverse-engineered, sue the author, don’t expect Apple to do this.
Does versiontracker have to do that with links to new software?
Does Amazon.com check software?
No, of course not.

Posted by slb on March 25, 2009 at 2:06 PM (PDT)

8

I’m an iPhone developer. I can duplicate almost any app I look at. Can you imagine if this goes unchecked, every single high-profile app can be duplicated countless times. Developers will see profits dwindle, users will be confused with multiple similar apps. The whole system will break down.

And we’re missing an important point here. Gary Fung, added a suffix to the original app’s name, confusing users that his is the “pro” version. And he used the same icon colored differently.

Posted by Robert on March 25, 2009 at 7:22 PM (PDT)

9

Apple doesn’t have to sue anyone. They should reject offending apps. They reject apps all the time anyway, why shouldn’t this be a reason? Is it that hard to spot that Touch Scan Pro is a ripoff of TouchScan? Just a name search in the same category would do.

Posted by Yankee on March 25, 2009 at 8:16 PM (PDT)

10

Gary Fung, Gary Fung, Gary Fung. Such a low life.
Check out he’s support page,
1st, he doesn’t even have support for his stolen apps.
2st, he even steal apple’s address icon and apple look a like url.

Posted by ellen kimber on March 25, 2009 at 9:23 PM (PDT)

11

@Jeremy Horwitz:

“When Apple is the exclusive official distributor of apps for the platform, it has some ability to know which came first—app one, or app two.”

This only allows them to determine who submitted the app first. It does not allow them to determine who has a legal claim on any intellectual property. Just because app one was rushed to the store, or happened to clear the approval process first, doesn’t mean to say that it isn’t a copy of app two. You’re suggesting Apple opens a whole legal can of worms.

Posted by Hamish on March 26, 2009 at 8:19 AM (PDT)

12

#11: “This only allows them to determine who submitted the app first.”

If the nature of the claim is “outright duplication of an app,” that fact alone would be enough to make a judgment in many if not all cases.

“It does not allow them to determine who has a legal claim on any intellectual property.”

Correct, however, just as the DMCA provides a presumptive takedown mechanism in the case of alleged copyright violations, requiring a statement of copyright ownership from one party, the same mechanism could and should be used here to facilitate takedowns of allegedly infringing materials. Let’s not get too theoretical here and pretend that we’re going to see important, great apps taken down from the largely trash-filled App Store. It’s only going to be junk that’s pulled, and then, almost exclusively infringing junk.

“Just because app one was rushed to the store, or happened to clear the approval process first, doesn’t mean to say that it isn’t a copy of app two.”

Apple would know which app was submitted first; the one that cleared the process first would be irrelevant. And your suggestion of near-simultaneous submission assumes a situation in which developer 1 comes up with copyrighted materials, shares them with the public, and then sees developer 2 swoop in around or before approval. Far more likely is the situation discussed above, in which developer 1 comes up with copyrighted materials, gets them approved, and sees the materials copied by developer 2 and approved by Apple as well.

“You’re suggesting Apple opens a whole legal can of worms.”

No. I’m suggesting that Apple live up to its responsibility as the exclusive publisher of applications for the iPhone and iPod touch and actually has someone think (say, look for 5-10 minutes at apps of the same name and/or same genre) before they approve something for sale, or as a fallback, provide a clear mechanism for removing blatantly, admittedly infringing content from the Store. There’s something very wrong when one developer can collect money (or deprive someone else of money) by completely copying all the work of another developer and offering the same thing; as the sole approver of apps, collector of that money and 30% beneficiary, Apple is responsible.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 26, 2009 at 10:23 AM (PDT)

13

Again, why is it Apple’s job to check the code on every submission?
It’s just not feasible.
As I said - if someone steals or reverse-engineers your code, make sure you’ve got your ducks in a row with Copyright, etc and sue THEM.
Make it painful for the thieves, not Apple.

Can someone tell me how this could be done by Apple without impacting costs and profits for all?

SB

Posted by slb on March 26, 2009 at 12:18 PM (PDT)

14

#13: (a) Because if Apple is operating a store and selling infringing merchandise, it has an obligation to pull the merchandise when it’s identified as infringing. If it doesn’t want to check the code, it needs to be able to respond to reasonable DMCA-like requests, just as it expects eBay to pull down auctions for its prototypes, YouTube to pull down videos, and so on. It costs little for Apple to do this, and more importantly, the company has literally billions of dollars coming in every year right now, millions of that every month from the App Store.

(b) Because forcing developers to use the legal system to chase people people every time they infringe is expensive and unrealistic, especially given that the problems start and stop at a single store. The App Store enables thieves by putting their stolen property on the same shelves with the legit stuff, and worse yet, gives it Apple’s seal of approval. This problem is entirely within Apple’s capacity to control, and shouldn’t require lawyers, a judge, or a jury to resolve.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 26, 2009 at 12:46 PM (PDT)

15

#14:

a) Apple can’t check every song on the store for potential copyright infringement.  But OF COURSE they should respond to developers 100% of the time and quickly if this is brought to their attention!

b) How again can Apple afford to do this, except when claims are made by developers?  They can’t do it for music, and I doubt they can for apps.

SB

Posted by slb on March 26, 2009 at 1:03 PM (PDT)

16

Apple can’t check that there’s an existing app with almost the same name, and the same icon? So Apple doesn’t even check for reused app names? Because if they do that surely Touch Scan Pro is going to look fishy next to TouchScan. Why argue about the law blar blar, and miss the obvious?

Posted by Yankee on March 26, 2009 at 6:53 PM (PDT)

17

Jeremy, you might want to read up on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  That’s the provision that gives Apple an absolute shield from liability for nonaction with respect to copyright infringement committed by app store developers.

Posted by Susan on March 26, 2009 at 8:07 PM (PDT)

18

#17: Apple is running a store, not an ISP or forum, and takes an active role in both screening and approving content before publication. Further, the CDA does not preclude liability for infringements of (federal) intellectual property rights.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 26, 2009 at 8:31 PM (PDT)

If you have a comment, news tip, advertising inquiry, or coverage request, a question about iPods/iPhones/iPad or accessories, or if you sell or market iPod/iPhone/iPad products or services, read iLounge's Comments + Questions policies before posting, and fully identify yourself if you do. We will delete comments containing advertising, astroturfing, trolling, personal attacks, offensive language, or other objectionable content, then ban and/or publicly identify violators.

Commenting is not available in this section entry.

Email:

Recent News

Recent Reviews

Recent Articles

Shop for Accessories: Cases, speakers, chargers, etc.