According to ‘State of Application Security’ report from the app security company Arxan, last year 97% of the top paid software for Android and 87% of the top 100 paid-for iOS apps were cloned.
Infact the total number of pirated assets is expected to hit 1.96 million this year.
These numbers are simply scary. Much worse than someone stealing your idea is to see a clone of your app on the app stores pulling your potential customers away from your app.
Now take a look at the data below and you will understand how easy it is to clone an app these days.
Even the most popular of apps get cloned. And the impact is frightful for those app developers that go through the nightmare!
- The developers of micro-messaging service Yo were shocked to discover that another similar app called Yolo was hoovering up its potential downloads.
- Flappy Birds clone made big news last year when Guardian newspaper found out that nearly one third of all games released on the App Store in a 24-hour period are Flappy Bird clones. What was even more shocking was that 4 of the top 5 free iPhone games in the U.S. App Store are Flappy clones, and that all 4 also feature in the top 10 in the UK.
- Blek, an original puzzle game prized with a Design Award from Apple at last year’s WWDC, started hearing negative feedback when it got cloned by several apps. The app received emails from users who [have] played a clone, thinking it’s the original game. Some of them complained about too many ads, not knowing that in Blek there are no ads at all.
- Ridiculous Fishing- Apple’s pick for 2013 iPhone Game Of The Year – almost didn’t get made because a ripoff beat it to market.
Frightening, isn’t it?.
In this article we will guide you through the steps you can take if you discover that your app is cloned. But if you ever have a doubt about your app being cloned or copied, read these two points before jumping to any conclusion.
- There is a thin line between copying and taking inspiration. But that thin line exists. So determine if your work has been really copied or someone is using it as an inspiration. Unfortunately, in the latter scenario your case won’t stand too strong.
- To what extent your app has been copied? They copied the app’s name, screenshots, description, app code, or the back-end services. Your case will be much stronger if the offender has copied any of your trademarked items – if you have a trademark in the first place.
If you are still sure that someone has cloned your app, read on and find out the steps you can take to save your app.
#1 Write to them
This will be a gentleman’s move. Write an email to them addressing the issue and let them get back to you with a justification.
You yourself don’t want to rush into any tedious legal process so try solving this with a simple email written in a firm language.
You can find their email address in the support contact on the app store profile page. If not use a tool called Whois which provides you the database on the domain name registered, if they have a landing page.
Here is a sample email for your reference:
Dear <Cloned App Name>,
It has come to my attention that you have made an unauthorized use of my copyrighted work entitled <your app name>. I have reserved all rights in the app, which was first published in <year> through <year> on <domain name>.
Your work entitled <cloned app name>, is essentially identical to my work.
As example comparisons, see <screenshot of your app> and <screenshot of cloned app>; also, see <your trademarked item> and <cloned item>.
You neither asked for nor received permission to use this work as the basis for <cloned app> nor to make or distribute it.
Therefore, I believe you have wilfully infringed my rights and could be liable for statutory damages.
I demand that you immediately cease the use and distribution of all infringing work. If I have not received an affirmative response from you by <give a timeline> indicating that you have fully complied with these requirements, I shall consider taking the full legal remedies available to rectify this situation.
Owner, <Your app’s name>
Mobile app development company Arkenea LLC’s website was copied in its entirety by a competing firm, to the extent, they even copied the same Google Analytics code. Simply writing to the founder of that copying company made them take it down.
#2 Send DMCA take down notice
This only applies in the United States, but the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has provisions for dealing with intellectual property theft online.
DMCA provides protection from copyright infringement lawsuits for service providers.
All you have to do is figure out the official address of the infringing app and send a DMCA take down notice to them. This is relatively an easy and inexpensive method to do so.
In most of the cases, offenders immediately comply with this notice to avoid further legal action. If they don’t act within the given timeline, proceed with further steps.
#3 Inform your App Store
In order to get the pirated app removed from the store, you can also report the infringement to your respective app store.
The App Stores have the authority to take down an existing cloned app and reject a new app if it attempts to leverage a popular app.
Infact, with the reference to the example mentioned above (Flappy Birds), both Apple and Google started clamping down on obvious clones of Flappy Birds just after the issue was reported in the media.
Each of the app stores have their own process and place to submit clone-related requests. You can use the following links to report apps infringement issues in different app stores:
- For reporting an app in Apple App Store
- For reporting an app in Google Play Store
- For reporting an app in Microsoft Windows
#4 Call them out publicly
If nothing else works, write a strong blog about it and share it on all social media platforms. Social media is the new moral police. Blogs and forums can be handy weapons to report this crime.
Spare some time to document the whole case with dates, images and statistics.
Apart from the blog you can also use forums like Hacker News, Stack Overflow and Reddit, to publicly defame the infringing party. These forums are a good way to get immediate suggestions and actionable steps.
Another suggestion here is to write a nasty review for the pirated app in the App Store mentioning how it has been cloned from your app.
Make sure you identify yourself as the copyright owner and provide links to your app and the cloned app so that the audience can compare and validate the whole case.
#5 Contact a patent lawyer if you have registered trademarks
If you still aren’t getting anywhere on your own, it might be time to contact a lawyer. A lawyer will probably begin by sending an official Cease & Desist letter to the offender.
A Cease & Desist letter is a document sent to an individual or business to halt purportedly-unlawful activity (‘cease’) and not take it up again later (‘desist’).
The lawyer can defend your trademarked properties and seek damages from the offender, unless they Cease & Desist immediately.
However, this process might cost you a good amount of money and may not always or entirely be worthwhile if your app isn’t in anyway doing too well.
Precaution is always better than cure
According to a latest research from MetaIntelli, 97% of mobile apps lack the proper binary protections, leaving them vulnerable to piracy. Another 2015 study from Ponemon Institute found that 50% of organizations have zero budget allocated to protecting mobile apps.
As an app developer, you don’t want to give a chance to copying. Here are few precautions which can help you safeguard your app:
- Set Google Alerts for your app: There are very little chances of cloned apps being mentioned on web but you can keep your watchdog ready. Set alerts for your app name and unique keywords used in app. So, anytime someone mentions these topics you will get a notification.
- Invest in application security: Don’t compromise on a strong backend support even if it means exceeding your budget.
- Post a copyright notice: Simply posting a copyright notice in your app can deter many would-be offenders from using your content.
- Sensitise your users: Like cloned apps, there are clone app stores. Recommend users to only install apps from the official app stores and to ensure the apps they are downloading are from legitimate developers. Also, most of the cases of cloning are reported by app users, so make sure your support is always active.
- Be on a lookout, always: This is not always effective but you might get lucky. Make it a routine to browse through the App Store regularly. Simply search the unique key phrases of your app. If needed, include your friends in this activity.
Looking at the brighter side, if someone is copying you, that validates you are doing an awesome work. So simply pat yourself for that 🙂
Did you go through a similar experience? Please share it in the comments section below.