Search and Research (Sort of)
The class has been focused on the questions around IP and Copyright protection and should it stay or should it go. I hold the opinion IP and Copyright protection for digital should be the same as protection for print.
For this exercise, I wanted to test the idea of requesting permission to use someone’s work in entirety on my blog. How arduous would the process be? Would they request compensation? Would it take a significant number of days..weeks…months to get a response?
I found a piece Plagiarism Today Original Text which interested me and aligned to the topic I was trying to demonstrate. I contacted them and asked permission to use their work in it entirety on my site. My only “give back” to the them was assurance I would link back to their site to allow my readers to jump to their site for additional info. No money changed hands, they did not ask to review before I published, and they took less than 48 hours to respond to my request.
The Roanoke Times recently published the story of Brian Raub, a developer of travel-related websites and the creator of Lakelubbers.com, a site dedicate to reviewing vacation-destination lakes across the world.
Raub had discovered that a company based in India had produced some 11 apps, each selling for 99 cents in the Apple App Store, that were scraping content from his site and republishing it wholesale. All without permission, attribution or any kind of revenue share.
When Raub approached Apple with the problem, they asked Raub to work it out with the company involved directly. However, the company, often responding in broken English, denied the copying even though it was clear and refused to remove the apps or his work.
Apple eventually removed the 11 apps at issue only to have the company upload 20 more, each representing a different state. Apple, so far has not removed those apps though it is unclear if Raub has filed a DMCA takedown notice.
The story caused a bit of a blowback in the mainstream tech press, especially on Apple sites, with journalists talking about Apple’s copyright infringement problem and the repackaging of content into paid apps.
However, this problem isn’t anything new. Countless apps make use of website content and there’s a very good chance that, if you have a popular website, your content may already be featured in an app.
Easy Apps, Easy Content
Creating an app has never been easier. In addition to the barriers of entry being lower than ever, there are services such as Apps Geyser and iBuildApp that will enable you to create an app from your site either for a small fee or a revenue share.
However, there is little, if any, checking being done to see if the content the apps are pulling is owned by the app creator. As a result, many apps pull content from websites without their permission.
Often times this is fairly innocuous. If you search for “TechCrunch” in the Apple App Store, you’ll first find the official app but then you’ll see several “News” apps that basically pull the RSS feed of TechCrunch along with similar sites to make a news feed, much like a pre-loaded RSS reader.
These apps aren’t republishing content, there’s full attribution and the sites that use truncated RSS feeds likely see a decent amount of mobile traffic from it. While it would be nice if these apps obtained permission, they are at least in a symbiotic relationship with the sites they pull from.
But then there are apps like the one Raub found. Since LakeLubbers does not offer an RSS feed, the content was either copied or automatically scraped from Raub’s site directly and then pasted into the apps directly without attribution.
It is unclear how many apps like this there are. These apps aren’t trivial to search for because they, usually, won’t list the source of their content, instead attempting to make it appear like they created it, and there’s no easy way to search for text, images or video inside apps being sold.
The only way to find the content, as Raub found, is to look for suspicious apps and download them, often at cost, to find out where the content came from.
But Raub is almost certainly not the only one impacted and the Apple App Store is not the only app store involved. Plagiarism and copyright infringement, including of Web-based content is a much broader issue.
The Broader Problem
We’ve all heard tales of copyright infringing apps in app stores.
In May of this year, Microsoft was called out for a “cesspool” of infringing apps that allowed users to illegally stream movies and TV shows. Two months prior, Lilith Games sued uCool for copyright infringement in its mobile game “Heroes Charge”, which was featured both in the Apple App Store and the Google Play store.
In short, the Raub’s case is just the latest in a long line of copyright problems in app stores that goes back years, as shown by the 2010 battle over AppVault, which was pulled from the Apple App Store after allegations it was a rip off of a similar app.
The issue is that, as the barriers to producing mobile apps have lowered and the amount of revenue flowing into them has increased, the checks and balances against copyright infringement have not increased either.
Though, in 2011, Apple added copyright infringement to the reasons it gives when rejecting apps, its clear from Raub’s case that the App Store review process isn’t able to completely weed out copyright infringing apps.
And the truth is there probably isn’t a way. Much as with online courses, it’s unfeasible to ensure that all of the text, images, video, audio and code in an app is original or authorized, especially when more than 1,000 apps are submitted every day.
Still, this doesn’t mean that Apple, Google and Microsoft should give up on stopping copyright infringing apps. Instead, they need to work on improving their policies to discourage infringement and encourage innovation.
Fixing (or at Least Addressing) the Problem
As with online courses, tracking copyright infringement in apps is going to be a challenge, however, the stores can do a great deal to discourage the submission of copyright infringing apps including:
Ban Copyright Infringers: This one sounds simple, but the company in Raud’s case submitted 11 infringing apps that were removed and then were allowed to submit 20 more. Even if Raud never filed a DMCA, clearly this company was a repeat infringer and needed to have their access to submitting apps cut.
Look for Warning Signs: According to Apple, copyright infringement is not a common reason for apps to be rejected. However, app stores have numbers and statistics on the apps that are and can likely find warning signs that an app needs extra review for possible infringement.
No Ill Gotten Gains: When an app is confirmed to be copyright infringing, through whatever process the store has, there needs to be an assurance that the infringer will not be able to keep their ill-gotten gains. This can be difficult since app stores pay developers on a regular basis, but finding ways to ensure infringers can’t profit from their misdeeds is the biggest step one can take to limiting the number who submit infringing apps.
To be clear, these steps won’t eliminate copyright infringement in app stores. However, as I stated in the previous article about online courses, if you want a community that respects copyright and creates original work, you need to strongly discourage infringement as well as encourage novelty.
In short, if you don’t clamp down on copyright infringement, you’re going to find yourself in a community that’s filled with infringers, making it difficult for the original creators to find an audience.
The frightening part is that this problem is only going to grow. As ad blockers are introduced to mobile browsers and the barriers to releasing an app keep dropping, more and more content creators are going to turn to apps to supplement their income. With them will come a small but growing number of plagiarists an infringers.
However, without action, the numbers of infringers will continue to grow unchecked and given how prolific copyright infringers can be (it’s a lot faster to produce apps when you don’t have to create original content) they can easily drown out legitimate publishers.
Raul’s story is a warning for both creators and the companies that run app stores: Apps are not just the future of content, but the future of copyright infringement. Creators need to be ready to protect their content and app store owners need to be prepared to keep the infringers at bay.
The next challenge has just begun and it will be interesting to see how all sides respond.
Content Reuse Form
Company/Organization (If Any):University of Alaska Fairbanks (Student)
URL(s) and Title(s) of Works You Wish to Reuse:
How Much of the Work Do You Wish to Use?:Complete Text
Will This Be a Commercial Use?:No
Where Will The Work Appear (Include Site URL if Possible)?:
Overall, a painless process with positive results. Copyright protection does not mean we can not have a conversation around use. In my opinion, it provides the developer protection and the ability to decide how their work will be used in the future. Ask for permission.
A great resource for copyright information is Legal Guide. They not only outline the process of requesting permission but also provide guidance around what you can do should your request be denied.
“Regardless of the copyright owner’s response, you can still use the work if your use comports with the fair use doctrine. The doctrine of fair use makes it legally permissible for you to use a copyrighted work without permission for purposes such as commentary, criticism, parody, news reporting, and scholarly works. Whether or not your use is lawful usually depends upon how different or “transformative” your use is from the original. Unfortunately, there is no clear formula to determine the boundaries of fair use. Refer to the section on fair use for a general discussion of the doctrine.”
Copyright 2007-16 Digital Media Law Project and respective authors. Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike
For more detailed rights requests you might end up negotiating with the rights holder for permission including compensation. This is typically the route for commercial works requesting permission. The PDF Permission to use digital and online content has some great information to guide your process. On page 3 the author poses special uses for digital content any requester needs to be mindful of. In short, having permission to use the content does not mean you can use it any form you would like. You need to specific in your request.
Publishers Weekly is another great resource copyright information. On this page, there is a link for Attorney Howard Zaharoff who provides guidance from the legal viewpoint. Granted, his guidance is mainly “hire a copyright lawyer” he does provide some good nuggets around Fair Use.