Smart phone Apps & Copyright Infringement


My two year old son loves my smart phone.  I would go so far as to say he is much fonder of it than I am.  It was only because of his affection for the phone and its capacity to amuse that I made a discovery that led to me writing this.

Recently I went looking for applications or “apps” as they’re called.  I can understand the need to abbreviate, application being such a long and cumbersome word.  What I can’t understand though is the prevailing disregard among “app” designers for U.S. copyright laws.  In less than a minute I spotted half a dozen apps that misused copyright protected media of all kinds including text, sounds, music, etc. and did so blatantly.

I’m guessing if you want to enforce copyrights they “have an app for that” too but you’d never know it by the free-for-all atmosphere of the marketplace I was browsing in.

For years now logos and copyright protected materials, registered names, and trademarks have been exploited on the Internet so I should probably be immune to the practice of plagiarism and misuse.  But for some reason I thought that the app marketplace was fairly regulated by the cellular carriers or at least monitored.  But as I looked over the available soundboards full of ripped off clips from movies and TV I realized that the app market was something of a mall of misappropriated property for sale (or in many cases free of charge) to anyone with access to it.

So who is in charge there?  Where are the Mall Cops?

Apparently Apple, AT&T, Verizon, and their other competitors are all busy with trying to buy or obliterate each other and can’t be bothered with enforcing copyright adherence among apps available for download by their mobile phone customers.  So how long until this hits home with those who are being advertised on these apps that violate U.S. copyrights and trademarks?  Eventually the abuses are bound to result in more than just C&D letters and once it passes that point how far will the blame be passed along?

One question that occurred to me was how much liability can be transferred from the affiliate or publisher to the advertiser when trademarks or copyrights are violated?  I wish I could shed light on this but I’m neither an attorney nor an informed follower of copyright infringement suits.  One interesting thing I found though, this article covers a suit involving alleged infringement on a search engine.  Though branded keywords don’t seem to be getting the same level of protection that other instances of brands and copyrighted materials receive this article by Chip Cooper on titled “Web Marketers – Are You Liable For Your Affiliates’ Trademark Infringement With Keyword Ads?” was interesting to me because of the defense that was used to shield the advertiser from blame.  In the end it was the opaque nature of the affiliate network that saved the advertiser it seems.  If this defense were successfully applied in instances outside of search engine marketing then it might be worth considering in this context too.

What can marketers and advertisers who are seeking to leverage the impressive audience grabbing powers that apps possess do to distance themselves from app publishers who are breaking copyright laws?

The only answer to that question that seems plausible to me is to not allow run-of-network ads for your campaigns on mobile networks.  Only with your most trusted mobile publishers and networks can you really be sure that your ad won’t wind up on an app that uses illegal methods to build an audience but even then extra monitoring of your ad placements is a great idea.  I suppose what I’m getting at is it’s important to know what’s going on in this new publishing medium so you don’t assume that it’s any less prone to abuses than the online media you may be more accustomed to using.

I’ll close with this.  A friend of mine who has a great deal of experience working in affiliate marketing described it pretty concisely.  He said something to the effect that everything you do successfully with affiliates is based on having stellar relationships.  You may not be able to count on Verizon to watch your back but if you have solid relationships with your networks and direct affiliates maybe you can count on them to.



What's your opinion?