Thursday, August 16, 2012

Irksome, but Nothing New

I woke up this morning to a friendly tweet from someone who noticed that another "developer" had taken one of my Github Projects and had put the app on the App Store for money.

Now, I license my source code very liberally.  Generally, using my stuff - even recompiling and releasing it unchanged - is allowed. In this case, the source code headers require nothing except that code redistribution include the copyright notice and license. In other words, you can use the code from Tile Cutter without any obligation to me at all. However, the project license, which covers everything else besides the code, specifically requires copyright notice and attribution. That means the assets like images, icons, and nib files cannot be used without at very least attributing me and including my copyright notice. Not only is there no attribution in this app, the developer has taken steps to remove the license and copyright notices to make it look like it was written by him or her. Hell, they even used my GitHub description, word for word, except for the part about the licensing terms.

If the app were free, I'd probably just shake my head and move on. If someone wants to pretend they wrote some code I wrote, it doesn't really hurt me all that much. I'm a little irked by the fact that they're charging money for something that I intended to be free and can't fathom how they can view this as a legitimate thing to do, but even with them charging for it, it doesn't really hurt me. It bothers me a little that they are enriching themselves on something I intended to be free, but I can get over that.

But, it turns out, it's not just my stuff this developer has done this with. This same developer also took EmberWind, Stone Mill, and Stash (renamed Personal Finance) from GitHub and did the exact same thing. Seeing this makes me far more angry, because these works represent a fair amount more effort than this weekend project of mine. In all these cases, the developer has taken steps to make it appear that they are the original author of the apps by removing links or attributions to the original authors. Even if not a direct violation of the licenses (I'm pretty sure it is in these cases), it's clearly unethical. The theft of these other apps makes me far more mad than the misappropriation of mine.

But wait, there's even more!

Someone sent me this link to the developer's web site. Apparently, Wang Ting is a very prolific developer whose list of apps include several major American Magazines and dozens of other Mac and iPhone apps. Several people have identified the sources of several of the app icons on that page (hint: at least some of them are not original to this developer), and I have a sneaking suspicion that Cosmopolitan, Marie-Claire, T3, and Seventeen haven't licensed their work to some random individual developer in China. I could be wrong, but I'd be willing to put money on it if you're in a betting mood.

I've notified Apple, and will be attempting to notify others whose work was stolen. Hopefully, Apple will take down the offending apps and consider revoking Wang Ting's developer privileges.

I know Apple can't and shouldn't be expected to catch all copyright infringements and license violations in submitted apps, and when you open source something, there's always a risk that people will use it and not respect the original license. But I have to wonder why the more blatant cases don't send up a big red flag.  If I were a reviewer and saw a major US magazine's content included in an app by a random developer, I'd be a little hesitant to approve the app without some proof that they had the right to publish it.