Can Apple keep up against fake copycat app developers?

01-temple-run

Originally discovered by The Guardian earlier today, Apple’s App Store was flooded with copycat gaming applications that mimicked the design style and names of popular iPhone and iPad games like Plant vs. Zombies and Tiny Wings. Created by a developer called Anton Sinelnikov, these applications trick iOS users into wasting money on software that doesn’t even work. Sinelnikov is responsible for publishing apps such as Plants vs. Zombie, Tiny Birds!, Catch the Birds, Numbers With Friends, Angry Ninja Birds, Zombie Air Highway and Temple Jump.

tiny-wings-vs-tiny-birdsKeith Shepard, creator of the extremely popular Temple Run game, was posting on Twitter earlier about the problem and stated “Yah, I feel bad for all the people fooled into buying this. It’s not even a working game, just a broken piece of junk.” Customers that purchased the application attempted  to leave a barrage of one-star reviews warning other customers away from the scam, but that didn’t seem to tip Apple off. 

After the story was published on the Guardian, Apple took swift action against Anton Sinelnikov and removed the majority of the applications that were blatant ripoffs of extremely popular games. According to Apple’s guidelines for developers, the rule book clearly states “If you attempt to cheat the system (for example, by trying to trick the review process, steal data from users, copy another developer’s work, or manipulate the ratings) your apps will be removed from the store and you will be expelled from the developer program.” However, Apple didn’t bother removing any of these applications that were clearly violating the guidelines until there was a public outcry about the problem.

While Apple allows users to report applications that are offensive or buggy, the App Store doesn’t offer an option that would allow App Store customers to report apps that are clearly ripping off another application. Since Apple doesn’t seem to be interested in policing the App Store internally, the company should at least crowdsource the task with customers. It’s also surprising that Apple actually published Sinelnikov’s applications as the approval process is said to be extremely exhaustive. If the app approval process allows applications with nearly identical art styles, names and icons to pass though the process unscathed, it’s clear that Apple needs to revisit how it judges new apps.

Apple’s role in copyright protection and IP infringement has been far less involved than the approval process though. Similar to relying on customers for reviews, Apple relies on developers of popular applications to police the App Store and submit complaints to Apple directly. Apple investigates the complaint and removes the harmful application if the complaint is deemed as valid. While larger game publishers have used this process to protect classic titles being prepped for the App Store, independent developers likely don’t have the manpower or time to dedicate to policing the App Store on a daily basis. 

cut-the-birds

During late October 2011, an app called Cut the Birds was removed from the App Store after the creator of Angry Birds, Rovio, submitted a complaint that the game was too similar to its popular game. Cut the Birds combined the concept of Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds. It quickly caught the attention of Rivio after the game skyrocketed to the top of the charts. Despite the game’s removal from the App Store and the Android Market, the company that developed the game released a new version of the game using 3D models of the birds as well as a followup called Cut the Birds 2, both of which are on the App Store right now.

In 2009, Apple took action against app developer Molinker after the company was busted by customers for creating fake reviews on iPhone applications. A member of an iPhone photography blog community spotted a trend in which Molinker applications were reviewed by the same people over and over. Before 1,000 Molinker applications were removed from the App Store for good, the iPhone blogger estimated that over 90 percent of all of Molinker’s reviews were completely fabricated.

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