05
Mar
android_vector_thumb1_thumb

The Android market is filled with apps of questionable legality. But oftentimes, overpriced, branded theme and clock apps like those you'll find here are considered relatively harmless - who's stupid enough to buy them, anyway? Still, apps in this category are in clear violation of registered trademarks - and that doesn't sit well with their holders.

Google even has a page for developers and copyright holders to submit DMCA takedown requests for apps on the Market. Google's form guides you through what information is needed, and how to identify the apps in question - really, it makes the whole process quite simple.

So how do we know Google is dealing with these issues? Our favorite tech giant has made all the copyright (DMCA) and trademark infringement notices it has received as a result of content on the Android Market (see here) publicly available. ChillingEffects recently translated this data for the month of February into a handy visual representation:

chart

The most prolific complainants? Facebook and Nintendo. Facebook sent 31 trademark infringement notices to Google in the month of February alone - mostly for illicit use of the "F" Facebook logo in app icons, as well as the Facebook name in the titles of apps. Nintendo's complaints were focused on a number of games that closely imitated the "look and feel" of  "Super Mario Bros."

Halfbrick Studios, developers of the popular game "Fruit Ninja", sent a DMCA notice to Google for the app "Fruit Slice," which has since been pulled from the market. It doesn't take a rocket scientist (or a federal judge) to see the why, take a look at this comparison of the two:

fruit-ninja-android-arcade-mode

Fruit-Slice-Android

Having never played the game myself, I would be unable to tell which is the fraud. These copycats aren't amateurs, that much is certain. But, this seemingly "duh" matter isn't so clear-cut: the developers of the slightly less-citrusy clone responded with a counter-notification to Google. If the counter-notification was properly submitted, Halfbrick now has 10 days to notify Google that it has filed a suit against the infringing developers or Google. If Halfbrick fails to do this, Google must reinstate the app or face the potential for liability to the developer of Fruit Slice.

As a practical matter, Fruit Slice won't be coming back into the Market, most likely. In their counter-notification, the app's China-based developers basically said that Halfbrick doesn't own the concept of slicing fruit. Also, their game uses a soldier instead of a ninja. Right. Some US courts have recognized the existence of a copyright interest in protecting the "look and feel" of the audio-visual aspects of software, and I'd say this is a pretty obvious example of such an illicit copying. Some of you may be familiar with a similar situation that unfolded almost 25 year ago over a certain video game.  Interestingly, the Fruit Slice devs adamantly assert that their game contains zero copied code, audio, or graphics from Halfbrick's game.

On a related note, the "Cut The Rope" clone "Rope Cut" has also mysteriously vanished from the Market (when exactly it was pulled, I don't know), probably under the same reasoning for asserting infringement.

It seems like Google is trying to tackle the infringement monster, but a monster it remains - and the more Android grows, the more attention it will attract from those who would seek to exploit the success of others for profit, or malice.

ChillingEffects

David Ruddock
David's phone is an HTC One. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, imparting a legal perspective on tech news, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Álmos

    Actually, the developers of Fruit Slice are right. Halfbrick doesn't own the concept of slicing fruits! If they didn't copy any sound, graphics or code, their app shouldn't be pulled. Let the better game win - which is clearly Fruit Ninja.

    • David Ruddock

      I disagree. It is clearly the intent of the "Fruit Slice" developers to capitalize off of the success of the "Fruit Ninja" concept with A.) a similar name, and B.) a near exact replication of the game-play and user interface (look and feel).

      In the United States, this is a pretty clear-cut case of copyright infringement, as Fruit Slice does not "add" anything to or at all alter the essential "look and "feel" of the game as compared to Fruit Ninja.

      • Peter Frank

        "Some US courts have recognized the existence of a copyright interest in protecting the "look and feel" of the audio-visual aspects of software, and I’d say this is a pretty obvious example of such an illicit copying."

        Game concepts have been copied ALL THE TIME. If concepts (and large parts of look and feel) should not be copied then there never would have been Sonic, I'm not even sure if there would have been Super Mario. There would not have been Half-Life, there would not have been Monkey Island, there would never have been World of Warcraft...
        The list goes on.

        Think about this:

        Halfbrink had one simple idea and that's it. Now they can lean back and relax because nobody else is allowed to use their concept and improve upon it.
        In my opinion that's bad for everyone, especially users.

        So David, I guess you are also OK with Apple sueing HTC/Google for using some concepts found in iOS in Android? Right?

        P.S. I don't agree with the "clones" takedown, but I agree with taking down /actual/ copyright or trademark violations such as copied graphics or logos.

        • David Ruddock

          I don't believe you're quite getting the definition of "look and feel." It's not about the concept alone (that being much of the "feel" aspect).

          Clearly, copying of the user interface, controls, and scoring system puts this far beyond simply being the "same concept".

          The game provides no innovative change, advances in visual or gameplay quality, and does not at all "add" to the experience found in Fruit Ninja.
          Simply because one takes the time to clearly and consciously copy another's idea instead of simply stealing code, doesn't make it any more ethical - the end result is the same.

          There is a vast difference between taking someone's idea and making it better or substantially modifying and simply transposing it and changing the colors.

        • Hans

          Mario Bros is a good example. Remember the good old Commodore 64 days? When an excellent game called Gianna Sisters was banned because they virtually only changed the music and characters? I'm sure there are a lot more recent examples, but that's the only one I can think of right now.

          I must admit I haven't played any of these fruit slicing games, but from the screen shots, I'd say the copy is clearly a copy, and shouldn't be allowed to exist.

      • Jon Garrett

        @David Ruddock

        I disagree with what you said. if you look at apps in both Apple app store and Android market there are many apps that do exactly the same thing. take the dozen or so Emoji apps. they're all the same, exactly the same in most cases.

        Look at all the shooter apps, they're all essentially the same. predictable patterns of enemies coming from the tops and sides of the screen while you shoot them, collect weapon upgrades or gold coins. All of these concepts are the same, just different graphics or sounds. so its the same with the fruit ninja game.

        I know some games ARE a blatant copy, really blatant. but if one game is fruit ninja and the other fruit slice and the sounds or images were not copied from the other game then I don't see the problem with it. kinda like all the bejeweled type games.

        lets not forget those games that everybody does but nobody even knows or bothered to find out who owns the rights to such games as checkers or hang man.

  • trdracer21

    Idc aslong as u install more apps and let developer make more games ice notice copy cats buy we need apps like apple

  • Tat3rt0T

    I wonder how people who purchased some of those apps will be refunded since the app was pulled.

  • ari-free

    hmm I think both of these games copied the slicing game on Wii Sports Resort.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5i1EmDLOijQ

  • behelit

    sure in this case it was quite obviously an intended clone but who's to say where the line is drawn between similar games and copyright infringement...
    if halfbrick suddenly charged $50 for fruit ninja, everyone would be happy to know that someone developed a similar game for free/cheaper.
    imagine if apple charged for facetime and didn't allow any similar video chat apps on the market.

  • Aneta

    I think it's a good thing that the replica games were taken down and I was especially glad when I heard that the developers of the replica games were Chinese. I mean come on we're starting to get over flooded with replica stuff all coming from China: fake mobile phones i.e. NOKLA, fake iPhones, I even remember to have seen photos of fake cars as well, and not just any regular cars, but fake BMWs, fake Mercedeses, fake Jaguars etc. It just makes me sick when someone will use the good name of a superbrand, tweak it a little bit and then offer it as a new product on the market...I mean stop insulting the good brand's names with your dumb f****** products which are widely known for your s**t chinese quality!

  • http://witter.com/ayman07 Kenshin07

    @Aneta

    You are a very ignorant individual. Go take a look at the glassware or clothing in your home, guaranteed you will find a good portion of that 'made in China'. Don't go slandering the name of the chinese when a typical Amercan has 45% of their stuff coming from China. People go with chinese knockoffs when they can't afford the real thing. You are clearly a racist.

    PS- I'm not chinese.

    As for the game, i think it shoudnt have been pulled. Its like having two flashlight apps. Should one be removed because someone thought of the idea first? If there was no code stolen then whats the issue? Has anyone actually played both games to see if there were any differences. I doubt fruit slice is connected with openfeint, that could be a selling point. I hate openfeint and the fact that it pops open every damn time. So if fruit slice removed openfeint then i would call this a feature. A feature that clearly makes it different than fruit ninja and i would have purchased it. Its like trying to remove the app fruit kaka fom the store as well. Did you guys forget that fruit ninja didnt even exist till the late part of 2010. Where were the developers then? Ya thats right, still on iOS4. Sometimes we do get these 'cheap knockoffs' but when he dev doesnt want to bring their app to our market, dont expect me to wait forever. If fruit slice is better would have no reason to not buy it. Guess ill never have the chance now.

  • Aneta

    @Kenshin07

    First of all you don't even know me and yet you dare calling me ignorant. Second of all, I don't know what's more ignorant, my original comment or the way you read it and interpreted it in your head.

    Of course there is an enormously big percentage of things we all own and use in our everyday lives that come from China; clothing, electronic devices, toys, home appliances etc.

    But it's fake replicas that were targeted in my comment not products that come from the genuine manufacturers which have assembly factories in China because of the cheap working force over there.

    For example, my target wouldn't be a genuine Adidas pair of sneakers produced and glued in China, but fake replica sneakers that resemble the genuine Adidas but have nothing to do with Adidas actually and usually go by the names of AdiBas or AdidOs or AdidaSS or whatever.

    The difference between the two is that the genuine Adidas shoes will be built of the same hi-tech materials no matter if they're manufactured in China or Honduras or Germany. Adidas have their standards and those standards are a must in all their factories across the globe.

    On the other hand, the fake shoes are made out of cheap, sometimes even health hazardous materials that don't go under any testing, neither for built quality or anatomical correctness.

    Same goes with replica phones...in your comment you said that people that sometimes can't afford the real thing they usually reach for cheaper replicas. You gotta be kidding me! Once again I'm asking who's the ignorant in the situation, but apparently you are if you believe that the replica iPhone is the same iPhone or the replika NokLa is the same as the original Nokia phone. They might copy the outer look of a phone but the software is not even close to the real thing. It's just a generic crappy software that goes along with all of the devices. And just so you know, in my country these phones have only 24 hours of warranty after you buy them, unlike the originals that come with one or two years. Need I repeat myself once again and tell you why is this like that? Ok, I will, because they suck donkey a$$ at quality!

    And so that is clear I'm not even near to what you call a racist, it just happens that these replicas come from China most of the time! If they came from another country my opinion on them would be nothing less but equal to the one I have now! I don't mind my Adidas shoes to come from China as long as they are genuine Adidas, I also respect the fact that many times a lot of people go for cheaper options because of many many reasons and offending them with my comment is the last thing I would like to do, I don't even intend to be offensive towards them. All I want to say is that it just makes me sick when a good brand name is misused in this manner by creating replica products! All those companies that make the replica products should put on some extra pair of balls and enter the market by an original name and using genuinely designed products not just misusing someone else's work and good name! That's disgusting!

    Best regards

  • Android user

    Just want to say 4 months later, Fruit Slice is still available on the android market for free.

  • MikeyFTL

    I agree with the whole bejeweled argument. I also feel that any game that involves openfeint is usually a crappy knockoff of something else. Not to mention they're usually more bloated. Fruit slice runs much smoother on my phone and is the better app by far. I uninstalled friut ninja after 5 minutes. Dont know why everyone prefers it.

  • Jermaine Walker

    Just a small note, for Galaxy Nexus users, or users of HD mobile devices: Fruit Slice seems to be in HD, and it looks amazing on hi-res screens, while Fruit Ninja appears to to be quite low resolution, and looks blurry and low-res in comparison. Some other users may not notice thr difference, but it is like night and day on this screen. I like Fruit Ninja, but I deleted it for this reason.

    As an aside, I believe Halfbrick released an HD version of Fruit Ninja, but it seems to be iPad exclusive.