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A recent publication by the Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance signals app piracy as a growing problem that has room for improvement. Rightsholders could collaborate more intensely with app stores, for example. Meanwhile, app platforms could implement know-your-customer verification, while deploying automated tools to scan for and filter apps that use known pirate keywords.
Over the past decade, mobile applications have become the standard platform for most people to consume content online.
Whether it’s for shopping, news, or entertainment, there is an app available for any type of content.
This shift in consumption patterns is not limited to legal content; movie and TV piracy has gone mobile as well. In some cases, these pirate streaming apps can be found in official app stores, reaching an audience of millions of users.
The App Piracy Problem
Copyright holders are not happy with these ‘unauthorized’ apps, which are big business. In a recent publication by the Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance (AAPA), NOS‘ Head of Content Protection Pedro Bravo provides a detailed overview of the problem.
App piracy includes legitimate apps that are copied but we reserve our reporting to those that are advertised as a gateway to pirated content or live streams. While these apps lure users with free stuff, they don’t necessarily offer pirated content.
The ultimate goal of the developers is the same though. They want to convert users into a revenue stream, one way or another. Some apps may monetize user data, for example, but for the vast majority advertising is the income stream of choice.
Stealing Ad Dollars
That can be quite a lucrative business model and poses yet another problem for legitimate content creators. In addition to ‘stealing’ content, these pirate apps ‘steal’ their potential advertising revenue too.
“Ad words campaigns are the most lucrative for Pirates. Yes, not only are rights holders losing money from the lack of legitimate App downloads, but Pirates steal what should be their ad revenue as well,” Bravo notes.
In the past, some pirate sites and services have embraced the Robin Hood image, in the sense that they distribute content from wealthy corporations to the public at large. However, the AAPA piece notes that it is naïve to think that pirates are well-intended folk heroes.
“[Pirates] are not charities, handing out access to content to ease the economic pressures. Quite the opposite. Pirates are in it for the money. They are often large, international organizations spread across different jurisdictions, with IT infrastructure and sizeable resources.”
This sentiment is not new. While pirate sites and services exist in all shapes and forms, these operations have to make money; they wouldn’t survive otherwise. And for many shady piracy operations, money is the main driver, which can come at the expense of privacy or security.
How to Tackle Piracy Apps
The big question is how piracy apps can be tackled. Here, the AAPA article lists some concrete suggestions, starting with closer cooperation between rightsholders and the operators of app stores, such as Apple and Google.
These platforms already remove copyright-infringing apps if they’re reported but rightsholders say they could be more proactive, sharing research and information that can help to detect apps early on. For example, by pointing out known identifiers such as pirate logos and names, so associated apps can be recognized more easily.
This implies that app stores should do more than simply respond to takedown notices. On this front, Bravo suggests that it’s key to ensure that piracy apps don’t simply resurface. Verifying the identities of app publishers could be a good start.
“From an App Store perspective, implementing a robust process around the Digital Services Act ‘Know Your Business Customer’ could eliminate a lot of Pirate organizations slipping through.”
App stores could also collaborate with “trusted flaggers” to set up faster and more streamlined removal procedures while ensuring that repeat infringers are permanently banned.
Finally, proactive filtering might also go a long way to address app piracy. While hash filtering isn’t suited for unique apps, Apple and Google could use automated detection tools to flag piracy-related keywords, to spot potentially problematic content.
“Another way for App stores to remove Pirate Apps could be to leverage automatic detection, using defined keywords, such as Free IPTV or Free football, to highlight the illegal Apps quickly,” Bravo writes in his AAPA piece.
All in all, Bravo calls for more collaboration between stakeholders. That includes rightsholders, who can bundle their knowledge, but app stores also have a crucial role in solving the piracy puzzle.