Apps & Software

Android app pirate website owners to be sentenced in landmark case

Google Play Store

In the world of Android app development, piracy is a significant problem, making it difficult for some developers to turn a profit from their work.

Two Android pirates that pleaded guilt to charges of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement back in 2012 could face up to five years in jail when they are sentenced on August 1st.

The men, Aaron “Zsak” Buckley of Mississippi, who was just 15 when he founded Applanet, and Gary Edwin Sharp II from Massachusetts, pleaded guilty to running “paid for free” sites that offer .apk files of paid Android apps, reportedly defrauding developers of approximately $17 million USD over a number of years.

The men reportedly distributed over five million free versions of apps through two different websites the pair ran between 2010 and 2012, Applanet and SnappzMarket. The FBI took hold of both domains in August 2012, marking the first seizure of a website focused on mobile app piracy. While the case has taken approximately four years to go to trial, both men face stiff prison sentences, with potential charges amounting to five years of jail time.

Similar to the early days of file-sharing services like Napster, Kazaa and Limewire, “Friends of Aaron,” Buckley’s crowdfunded legal defence, argue that the site had become to large for him to monitor, resulting in users uploading illegal copies of Android apps on their own accord despite his best intentions. Buckley is now 22 years old.

A quick Google search reveals countless results for shady websites offering Android apps typically available in the Play Store for a fee, completely for free. This is the dark side of Android’s open ecosystem, which allows .apk files downloaded from any source to be installed smartphones that utilize Google’s operating system. In contrast, Apple takes a a “walled-garden” approach to its store, allowing apps only downloaded from its official App Store to be installed on iOS devices, reducing piracy significantly.

In fact, Toronto-based developer Snowman, released critically acclaimed mobile game Alto’s Adventure for free with ads when porting the title to Android. On iOS the game is priced at just $0.99.

Research related to the case involved coordination between authorities in the U.S., France and the Netherlands.

[source]U.S. Justice Department[/source]