Apple Pulls App After Competitor’s Copyright Infringement Claim

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Apple has pulled an app called AppVault Pro (and its AppVault Lite free version) from the App Store after the makers of the competing AppBox Pro (and AppBox Lite) filed a copyright infringement claim with Apple. In their complaint, the makers of AppBox claimed that AppVault's developers had copied their ideas, layout, and features from AppBox, and it would seem that Apple agreed, as the app was pulled from the App Store.

From that complaint: "They have just same graphics, layouts and features with different color for Ruler, Level, Battery, Tip Calc, Periodic Calc, and more in the AppBox Pro. Comparing the home screen of the AppVault Lite and the AppBox Lite, we know where their ideas comes from and how they made it. It is apparently infringing the copyright of the AppBox Pro and the AppBox Lite."

In a post on the AppVault site, the developers complained about the decision. While they acknowledged the similarities between the app, they defended AppVault by claiming that it had more features.

"We covered as many apps as they did and more, so as to be a superset of AppBox," the company said in its post. "We spent a lot of time to make AppVault far superior. We took existing ideas and expanded on them -- with tons of cool new features not seen in AppBox. We came up with an amazing and beautifully designed app, and offered many apps not present in AppBox such as an iTunes Alarm Clock, Parking Buddy, Bible, and Guitar Machine. Our customers loved us for it and the App Store rewarded us with a meteoric rise."

The group has launched a petition drive to get AppVault back on the App Store.

Comments

Bryan Chaffin

I’ve personally very little sympathy for AppBox based on their own description of events and their defense. At the same time, however, it seems that it would be smarter for Apple to let issues like this work themselves out in court rather than putting themselves in the position of judging copyright infringement.

It’s an interesting development in the ongoing development of Apple’s App Store ecosystem. It’s also something that could become more common going forward as developers look to existing apps for ideas in a crowded marketplace.

John Martellaro

I agree with Bryan.  Apple shouldn’t be making copyright infringement rulings on behalf of its developers.

JonGl

And my concern. Will Apple now yank the app tha I paid for from my phone? Ifso. Will they refund my money? I don’t use it much but I don’t want to lose it.

- Jon

ilikeimac

Yep, this is too close to call. Apple should back off and let the developers take their bickering to court or some other means of settlement. I suppose there are other, more blatant infringements that would be cause for swift action to avoid liability, but that doesn’t seem like the case here.

Anyone have screen shots of AppVault? I’d like to see the side-by-side for myself. If they’re as similar as the complaint says then maybe AppVault would be best served by redecorating with more original graphics than by whining and creating useless internet petitions.

OldGuy

Gents.  Apple had little real choice as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (or another law) gives immunity to web hosts if they take down the allegedly infringing content when notified.  Apple could have left it up, but then could have been pursued for its part in breaching the copyright.  Not much upside for Apple to do that if the copying appeared so clear.

sosumi

It?s also something that could become more common going forward as developers look to existing apps for ideas in a crowded marketplace.

Gotta wonder how many alarm clocks, flashlights, and fart apps are now in danger.

People have zero originality today.  Really, why copy an existing app?  Cut new ground if you’re gonna go through the effort.

subkey

Here’s a link to the two apps screens side-by-side.

ilikeimac

@subkey,

Great comparison. Thanks. I would call these similar, but not infringing, and none of these features are the first of their kind.

@OldGuy,

I’d be upset, but not surprised, if the DMCA applies to cases where artwork and layout are merely similar and not exact copies. Obviously the law protects copyrights and trademarks against more than just exact copies, but the overreaching power of the DMCA surely has more specific requirements? Developers should not be able to kick each other off the app store merely by claiming infringement; @sosumi is right, this is bad news for any app that tries to improve on an existing one.

Douglas

Here is a link to the two apps screens side-by-side.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Sad, but not the least bit surprising. One day you guys will figure out that all of these problems stem from Apple having exclusive control of app distribution. No exclusive control, no problem. If AppBox wants to take AppVault off the market, they can pay for the privilege of taking them to court. And AppBox can have their @$$es handed to them, because this is beyond without any merit.

Bryan Chaffin

Bosco, you’re mistaken. I am (personally) very aware that these and other issues stem from Apple’s control of the whole widget, including App Store distribution.

I am also aware, however, that “It just works” also stems from that control. “It just works” outweighs the other issues, at least most of the time.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Bryan, I don’t disagree that they have you convinced that total control is necessary grin. I see this as very similar to DRM. And you’re one of the few guys with a fairly public voice that got it about DRM early and consistently. It took me years of scratching my head reading your screeds against it for it to finally click. DRM does not protect consumers from viruses. DRM was not the magic thing that got the music companies to license for digital downloads. It was a giant PITA foisted on consumers to lock them into a particular supplier. The market eventually figured it out and doesn’t tolerate it for purchased music any longer. Surprisingly, with no appreciable loss of market value and no increase in virus activity tied to legitimate music sales.

It’s been a long time since I had a computer or pretty much any device that didn’t “just work”. This isn’t 1996 or 2000. My Windows computer just works when I need it. My Palm TX still just works if I pick it and turn it on. My Mac, upon which I run a bunch of silly apps that I’ve written without anyone’s permission, just works. All without Steve Jobs and his proxies giving their blessing. I guess I should be amazed at my incredible luck or something.

gslusher

Sad, but not the least bit surprising. One day you guys will figure out that all of these problems stem from Apple having exclusive control of app distribution.

Not the way I read it, nor the way an attorney advised a group I was head of about the DMCA. If Apple distributed the app AT ALL, it would be liable under DMCA. It doesn’t have to be “exclusive.” eBay has the same rule: if a copyright holder contends that an item for sale on eBay violates their rights, eBay has to review it and, if they think that it MIGHT infringe, take it off the site. Ditto for YouTube. (Yes, I know that a lot of YouTube videos blatantly infringe on copyrights, but, unless the copyright owner notifies YouTube, they don’t have to do anything about it.)

Terrin

Apple had to remove the application once it learned there was a copyright claim. If it failed to do so, it could be sued for contributory copyright infringement. In other words, by selling an application that infringes on another’s copyright, Apple could liable as well for aiding the copyright infringer. There is no intent element to copyright infringement. You can be guilty without intending to be so. Although, if it can be shown one intended to do so the penalty can be higher.

Further, I do not think the DMCA take down notice provisions apply here. DMCA take down notice provisions apply to ISP or services like YouTube where the companies provide no supervision for the content provided. So, in those cases such companies are not liable for copyright infringement for the content it’s members post if copyright holders notify them of infringement and the companies remove the offending material. Here Apple actually reviews the material before it goes online, so arguably it is already liable for copyright infringement if the app does infringe the copyright of another. Since, Apple is the distribution channel for the developer, the developer probably isn’t going to make that claim though.

Copyright laws have become very draconian. The monetary penalties for copyright infringement are higher then if you killed somebody. It used to be copyright protection lasted 14 years, and was renewable by request for another ten. Then the works could be used by the public. Nowadays copyright protection lasts over hundred years, and the penalties for infringement keep getting higher and higher. The public part of the bargain has long been forgotten. Another example of what happens when people do not defend their rights.

it seems that it would be smarter for Apple to let issues like this work themselves out in court rather than putting themselves in the position of judging copyright infringement.

Terrin

Of course you are right. On the other hand, the US should not have copyright laws that can hold a company like Apple liable for up to $250, 000 every time it sells an alleged fringing copyrighted work.

I agree with Bryan.? Apple shouldn?t be making copyright infringement rulings on behalf of its developers.

Michal

Comparing two binary modules the AppBox Pro and the AppVault Pro, I found there are 193 exactly same files exist. The AppVault Pro copied it?s data files from the AppBox Pro binary.

Sam Steele

We are all for free competition in the market?naturally! However, I actually checked into this and let the truth be known that the initial launch of AppVault was 98% identical to AppBox. I?m talking colors, graphics, menus, you name it.  I heard that even a bunch of the code was at some point directly copied?. Sure, now they have back-peddled and have added some features and altered some of the designs, but they chose the easy route to begin with. It was unfair, dishonest and misleading to customers—and very likely illegal. Shame on AppVault for trying to cut corners and then crying when the other company simply tries to protect their rights. Think of it this way?What if someone took a popular book, copied the pages verbatim as well as the cover design, changed only a few letters in the title and then re-printed and tried to sell as their own? Even if they later tried to cover this up, added chapters, etc?It was still clearly Intellectual Property theft. I for one wouldn?t buy that book if I knew the full story.

I see a link to AppVault?s side of the story; it would be great to get the other side as well.

Take care!

Sam

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