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Android App Piracy Leads Feds To Seize Websites

U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation cite alleged theft of intellectual property.
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Authorities in the U.S. have seized three websites alleged to have distributed copies of Android applications in violation of copyright laws, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Tuesday.

The three domains--applanet.net, appbucket.net, and snappzmarket.com--now display an FBI seizure notice. The seizure was coordinated with French and Dutch law enforcement officials because some of the servers were located outside the United States. Nine search warrants were also executed in several U.S. states as part of the operation.

"Cracking down on piracy of copyrighted works--including popular apps--is a top priority of the [Justice Department's] Criminal Division," said Lanny A. Breuer, assistant attorney general, in a statement. "Software apps have become an increasingly essential part of our nation's economy and creative culture, and the Criminal Division is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to protect the creators of these apps and other forms of intellectual property from those who seek to steal it."

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In 2010, the Justice Department signaled its intention to pursue intellectual property crimes more aggressively with the launch of its IP Task Force.

While there have been some noteworthy successes, like the seizure of 150 websites linked to the selling of counterfeit goods in November 2011 and the seizure of 36 websites said to be involved in the sale of stolen credit card numbers in April 2012, the government's enforcement actions have also generated considerable controversy.

In February 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed that a seizure of 10 websites alleged to be involved with child porn had inadvertently taken some innocent Web domains offline.

The American Civil Liberties Union has complained that the seizure process, outlined in the PRO-IP Act of 2008, violates the Fifth Amendment's due process clause and the First Amendment because it fails to allow sufficient opportunity to argue against seizure. The organization points to a hip-hop blog called Dajaz1.com, which was offline for about a year as a result of a government seizure. It had linked to four unreleased music tracks in 2010 and the site's legal representatives were unable to immediately argue that the site had not violated the law.

More recently, the Justice Department's attempt to extradite Kim Dotcom, the founder of seized New Zealand-based file-sharing site Megaupload, has stalled following the New Zealand High Court's decision last week to uphold a lower court ruling that U.S. authorities must present evidence to advance their extradition effort.

Whether or not U.S. authorities can deter unauthorized copying, some developers argue Google should do more to safeguard apps. A 2011 survey of 75 Android developers by the Yankee Group and Skyhook Wireless found that more than half believed Google wasn't doing enough to prevent app piracy. Last month, developer Matt Gemmell also laid the blame at Google's feet: "People pirate Android apps because it's easy."

Google has tried to limit the unauthorized copying of Android apps through the introduction of its Android licensing service in 2010 and its implementation of device-specific encryption for paid apps sold through Google Play in June. In July, author Godfrey Nolan said Google needs to extend encryption to all Android apps due to the ease with which they can be decompiled.