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Inside look: how Apple's App Store handles developer plagiarism

updated 10:50 pm EST, Thu February 13, 2014

Process sheds light on Apple's response to copying complaints by developers

As part of a relatively-accessible developer ecosystem, like Apple's App Store, there needs to be a process for developers (and users) to report potential plagiarism of applications and other materials. Apple does have a process, and comic reader app iComic's developer Tim Oliver, regrettably, has experience with it. He has offered to tell us about the process from the start.

Oliver told MacNN that he discovered the copying of his description text for iComic by accident. He noted that "every now and then, I like to do a quick search on the App Store for 'comic reader' to see how my app is doing in the rankings, and if there are any new comic reader apps that may have popped up in the meantime. This particular app was a lot higher on the list than iComics, and since it was free, I decided to check it out. When I read the description, I realized what they had done."

The process of reporting an app, Oliver says, is "quick, and mostly automatic." Telling Apple about the problem consisted of completing a simple form with the reporting party identifying the content, and confirming that the filer is the proper rights holder.

Once the form is submitted, Oliver told us that "it is reviewed by an iTunes Legal representative, who will then notify the infringing party. From this point onwards, all communication is usually done by email between the two parties (iTunes Legal usually like to be CC'd into these discussions to ensure the issue is proceeding), and the issue is closed once both parties inform iTunes Legal that they have reached a resolution."

If a resolution between the parties cannot be reached, Apple can decide pull the app in question from the store. This is a two-edged sword, as the system can be abused, and has been in the past.

The case seems fairly straightforward. Oliver's iComic app's last update was on June 16 of 2013. AllComic's release date was November 28 of 2013, five months after the previous release. The majority of the AllComic description, as seen below, is verbatim to that of iComic's text. The text for both apps was captured today, February 13, and may change if and when the AllComic developer responds.

"I think I'd just like to say, if any other developers find themselves in a similar position, that they shouldn't be afraid to stand up for their rights," concluded Oliver. "I was originally going to let this issue slide, but I had a large number of people tell me that if all app developers did that, not only would it allow these kinds of plagiarism to thrive on the App Store, but it would also mean the positions of their own apps would be weakened."

The entire tale has yet to be told. The developer of the potentially infringing app has been notified by Apple that there is a complaint. So far, the description on AllComics hasn't been changed.

Editor's note: if you are an Android developer, and have run into this kind of thing, please let us know. We'd like to discuss your story

iComics description text
iComics description text

AllComics description text
AllComics description text

by MacNN Staff



  1. TomMcIn

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-21-01

    Apple should have all the information on when the legit version and the copies were submitted and approved. They should be quickly removing the scum and preserve the work of the quality submitters.

  1. Lynn_Fredricks

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 07-25-06

    This sort of things happens all the time because DMCA is full of unfixed loopholes, trapdoors and undefined processes. Network providers can just make stuff up as they go along. One take home in this experience though is that when it comes to legal stuff "I was busy" is no excuse - its just a really crappy part of the business that nobody (other than lawyers) wants to do.

  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 01-25-07

    Of course they could have said, "Does all the things iComics does, but this one's free." I don't know how that would go over, but there wouldn't be a description plagiarism claim...

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