Appy Talk — What’s the Difference Between App Piracy and Piracy Apps?
Appy Talk — What’s the Difference Between App Piracy and Piracy Apps?
By Joseph Cherayath – VP of Enforcement
Does your business need its own app or are your website and social media profiles enough for you to reach your customers? Speaking more generally, just how important are apps and what is their global impact?
In our increasingly mobile environment, this discussion is becoming something of a no-brainer for many businesses and rightsholders. People used to ask whether they needed a website or a social media profile to communicate, but the answer quickly became obvious — if you want customers, get online. Consumers already use mobile applications for everything from watching videos on TikTok and Telegram to e-hailing in place of car ownership, so when it comes to connecting with an audience, the billions of app downloads each year suggest they are now indispensable.
The popularity of apps, however, has also made them an important new development in brand protection and for the ongoing defense of content from digital piracy.
In the same way that websites, domains, and social media platforms have been subverted by online pirates to either host, advertise or link to copyright-infringing content, apps have been similarly manipulated. Not only is there a multitude of free movie apps offering pirated titles and TV shows on Android and iOS, but there are apps with how-to pirate movies tutorials, fake apps that infringe IP to steal user credentials, trademark-infringing apps and modified apps that illegitimately boost user accounts with premium access and features.
What do you need to know about the difference between the app piracy and piracy apps? Furthermore, if you are a rightsholder or a creative, is your content secure on apps and are your apps secure from being impersonated by others?
Trademark and Copyright Infringement on Fake Apps
Before we delve into how digital piracy occurs through software such as free movie apps, let’s look at those apps which illegally use registered trademarks or copyrighted content to entice downloads. This is one form of app piracy, and it occurs when unauthorized developers use or infringe registered trademarks, copyrighted content or other intellectual property rights (IPRs) to impersonate a brand and hijack its reputation.
In 2019, a study of over a million apps on the Google Play Store unearthed approximately 50,000 potentially counterfeit or infringing Android applications. These apps, 2000 of which were considered high risk, were counted as having “high visual similarity” with some of the most popular apps on the platform. The developers of these counterfeit apps were either illegally infringing brand IPRs by using protected content, or by creating similar-looking apps that were likely to be mistaken for official ones.
There are a host of reasons why counterfeit app developers choose to infringe brand IPRs, but it may include building their own reputations and profits, directing consumers to sales of counterfeits or pirated content and illegally gathering user details.
One of the most alarming conclusions from the 2019 report was that in addition to stealing from brands and causing reputational damage, app impersonation directly facilitated the spread of malware. Of the 50,000 potentially fake apps identified, just over 7000 of them were tagged as high risk by at least one anti-virus system, but over 2000 were tagged by at least five!
Clearly there is a direct link between unscrupulous developers creating IPR-infringing apps and a slew of potentially dangerous digital threats. While apps called “Next-flix” or some other variation may appear to be a bad joke, they may be hiding unscrupulous functionalities.
3 Kinds of ‘Free’ Content Apps You Should Be Aware Of
There are many platforms that pirates use to distribute and consume free movies and other illegal content, but mobile apps have also become a central part of this digital black market. From Kodi addons enabling unlimited free sports to cloned streaming apps that allow users to download back catalogue titles, the range of apps is extensive. Here are three important pirate app types for anti-piracy practitioners to be aware of.
1. Apps that host and distribute pirated content as a secondary source
Encompassing everything from chat apps like WeChat to user-generated content (UGC) communities such as Reddit, some apps serve to distribute free links to pirated movies and other content.
In our experience, the illegal content on these secondary apps (secondary here because piracy is not the main goal of the platform) will vary according to the audience, the content and the region. Some platforms will specialize in cracked games, whereas others will be exclusively devoted to free movies from specific countries. Effective content protection and anti-piracy strategies will consider these variables while prioritizing enforcement options.
2. Apps that infringe IPRs, host pirated content and harvest user credentials
In April 2021, cybersecurity experts reported the case of ‘FlixOnline’, a free movies app on the Google Play store that approximated Netflix’s interface. The app lured in downloaders with the promise of free global Netflix content, but then surprised them by monitoring their WhatsApp data and even responding to their incoming messages with its own adverts. This technique can be used to spread malware, steal user payment data or even extort users by harvesting sensitive information.
3. Modded APKs designed to remove limitations and enable premium features for free
Android Package Kit (APK) files are the engines that sit behind the slick interfaces that users of Android apps commonly see. Although downloaders rarely glimpse these .apk file endings — because installation is handled automatically by your phone or tablet — it is possible to download and install APKs manually if you have the knowledge.
This also leads to the situation where hackers can obtain APKs and change the code within them for illicit reasons. Usually this includes changing the elements of the file and then reconstituting it so that when new users download the modified (modded) APK instead of the original app, they have extra features or benefits that they should pay for. In games, this may be extra lives, but on streaming platforms it might be unlimited access to all content.
How Can You Stop App Piracy and Piracy Apps?
Now that Entura International is part of Corsearch we can offer an even broader range of solutions capable of finding, verifying, and enforcing against IP crime. Whether you are affected by streaming piracy on apps or have had your reputation damaged by brand impersonators, we have a global team of experts protecting brands and content with time-saving technologies.
To learn more about how the anti-piracy and brand protection solutions we deliver, please contact us today.