ArtsWatch: Pirate App Sites Seized

Federal authorities seize three domains selling infringing mobile apps
August 27, 2012 -- 6:42 am PDT
By Philip Merrill / GRAMMY.com

In recent news ...

On Aug. 21 Department of Justice and FBI officials announced the seizure of three websites that had been marketing pirated Android mobile apps. This was a coordinated action that included Dutch and French authorities and the execution of search warrants in Indiana, Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and Texas. U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said, "Criminal copyright laws apply to apps for cell phones and tablets, just as they do to other software, music and writings." The DOJ described this as "the first time website domains involving cell phone app marketplaces have been seized."

Mobile app security vendor Arxan released a study on Aug. 20 surveying the top 100 paid Android and Apple apps and 15 popular free apps for both platforms. Authored by Arxan Vice President Jukka Alanen, the study found that more than 90 percent of apps had been "hacked," whether by pirating code, disabling security or infesting the infringed copy with malware, among other variants. Every category of application was affected by this tampering, including games, financial services, entertainment, and health care. "The traditional approaches to application security such as secure software development practices and vulnerability scanning cannot address the new hacking patterns that we identified," said Alanen.

At a mobile privacy-protection meeting hosted on Aug. 22 by the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, consumer advocacy organizations Center for Digital Democracy and Consumer Federation of America expressed a need for industry briefings in order to enable substantive discussions. The multistakeholder process is intended to result in a code of conduct for app transparency, including the collection or sharing of personal information. The consumer organizations are concerned that many issues about mobile application data flows cannot be properly identified or resolved without additional information. The series of meetings follow February's White House initiative to develop a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights for the Internet age.

A hot debate between AT&T and consumer advocates about wireless Net neutrality illustrates the challenge ahead for substantive engagement between stakeholders on the topic of apps. Apple's FaceTime video chat app has been preloaded on AT&T's standard iPhone configuration for some time, available for use over a Wi-Fi connection. News that the carrier would allow the app to use mobile broadband data under one of its plans led to swift protest by Free Press and Public Knowledge that AT&T was planning to violate Federal Communications Commission open Internet rules. When AT&T responded with an explanation on Aug. 22, Free Press and Public Knowledge rejected its arguments. Observers have long expected "reasonable network management" to be a contentious phrase, but this FaceTime debate suggests finding mutually acceptable terminology will first involve additional battles.

On Aug. 23 the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts upheld the $675,000 damage award for copyright infringement against consumer file-sharer Joel Tenenbaum in response to the defendant's latest effort to either reduce the size of the award or obtain a new jury trial. This past May the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal of last year's reinstatement of the damage award.

In Germany three leading content industry associations — regional IFPI affiliate BVMI, German Federation against Copyright Theft and the German booksellers association — released their second survey of digital content usage on Aug. 22. The results reflected broad public awareness that online copyright infringement is wrong, depriving creators of income based on their works, and majority support of both fines and warnings for illegal downloaders. It also found that stream ripping, a form of pirating that pulls streams from sites such as Pandora and Spotify, became more fully established in 2011 and was used by half of illegal downloaders. BVMI Managing Director Dr. Florian Drücke said, "We are delighted that legal use of media content on the Internet continues to increase and the diversification of the legal range is bearing fruit. This makes it all the more painful that people are massively helping themselves to free content via stream-ripping services. ... We have long been demanding that the term 'private copies' should stop being stretched in this way."

On Aug. 21 in the Netherlands, European anti-counterfeiting organization React.org obtained a summary judgment from the District Court of The Hague ordering Internet hosting provider AltusHost to block access to 25 websites offering counterfeit merchandise for sale online. AltusHost reached a subsequent agreement with React to streamline future reporting and blocking of accounts that are shown to be engaged in promoting counterfeit goods. However, AltusHost's attorney Marc van Rijswijk described his client's inability to prevent customers from switching to an alternative hosting provider. "In fact this has happened for the ... 25 websites that were subject to the proceedings, making the actions of the market holders, in the opinion of AltusHost, futile," said van Rijswijk.

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ GRAMMY.com and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

Click on the "ArtsWatch" tag for links to other GRAMMY News stories in this series.

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