back to article Android Marketplace starts cleaning house

Google has been cleaning up the Android Marketplace, kicking out developers responsible for some of the most popular Android apps – without notice – and leaving customers scrabbling for an alternative. The applications concerned are games-console emulators: N64oid, Ataroid, Gamboid and Snesoid have disappeared from the …

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  1. Luke McCarthy
    Stop

    Copyright

    Is an emulator really a breach of copyright? If it's just a "clean room" re-implementation of the behaviour of hardware, surely this is perfectly legal as long as no ROMs or firmware is copied?

    1. Steve the Cynic

      Well, yes, but (or maybe not)

      It depends... Either it is legal (but largely purpose-free) on the grounds that the original hardware being emulated had no e.g. region-locking, or it breaches the DMCA because it is in essence a circumvention device (e.g. it defeats the intent of the region-lock).

      Before you start, yes, I know that the non-installed firmware is responsible for enforcing the region lock, but it uses information from the hardware to do it...

    2. Ian Yates
      Flame

      Age-old argument

      While the sentiment is sound, unless you're running homebrew games (and plenty exist), the value of the emu us clearly in copied ROMs.

      I'm not saying I agree with Sega, but I can see how they could put together an argument so that Google decide it's better to cut off a few devs on dodgy ground rather than risk getting in the crossfire.

      Now, if Sega were doing it because they had an Android emu of their own to release, along with tested and tweaked ROMs of everyone's favourite classics at reasonable prices, I'd say "fair play" - but they won't. They'll crush all attempts for people to play classic games that Sega themselves have no interest in without offering a legal alternative, and then do nothing about it.

      Perhaps these companies should learn to chat to such devs and come up with a legal compromise that pleases everyone, rather than acting like a spoiled brat?

      Seriously, they could be making £1 a ROM without putting any effort in themselves.

    3. Bilgepipe

      Probably

      >>> Is an emulator really a breach of copyright?

      At best he's enabling his customers to breach copyright by copying cartridges, at worst he's got a copy of each ROM in his app. This looks like a pretty clear case of infringement.

    4. This post has been deleted by a moderator

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Firmware?

        Your correct in that Strict emulation is perfectly legal, however, Emulators which include original Firmware without permission (And lets face it, most do) are in breach of copyright.

        There are very few consoles that dont have any. the 2600 comes to mind, although the original NES may be one as well, but certainly any Sega emulators will.

        The only exception to this I am aware of are Emulators for the ZX-spectrum and Amstrad CPC, for which Amstrad generously allow the firmware to be used for non-commercial use.

        Oh, and format shifting *is* illegal in most places, the US being currently the big exception.

        The only reason we havent seen any prosecutions here in the UK is because they would have to prove damages, which probably wouldnt even cover the court costs.

        1. Craigness
          Headmaster

          "Your correct"

          His correct?

    5. DrXym Silver badge

      Copyright extends to the emulator code too

      "Is an emulator really a breach of copyright?"

      Not in itself no. In this particular case it sounds like the guy copied the emulator code from open source projects, some of which had non-commercial clauses and packaged them up to sell.

      The secondary issue of emulators that require firmware & games could also have come into play but I reckon this guy made it easier for Google to justify. It would be more difficult to yank some random emulator if it didn't ship with any copyrighted material.

      1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  2. Anon the mouse
    FAIL

    GPL Violation too

    N64oid and the rest of those *oid emulators were in breach of GPL, as they were sold, didn't send source code on request, and best of all the "developer" removed all references to the actual developers.

    N64oid is mupen with an underdevelopment ARM dynarec (Ari64 and others) and graphics plugin tweaks for ARM. As for the others, I'm not sure which emulators they have been repackeged from. But the developer info has been completely wiped other than Yongzh's name.... GPL breaches everywhere.

    I was under the impression that PSX4Droid was pulled due to copyright though.... and is a different developer (Zod4ttd) that also doesn't release code as required by GPL.

    So you got the story half right.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "*oid emulators were in breach of GPL, as they were sold..."

      Erm, selling software *isn't* against the GPL at all (see http://goo.gl/5gkwS). It never has been against the GPL either. The FSF recognises the need to earn a living! The other two points you make (distribution of source on request and referencing developers) are absolutely correct, so it looks like you got your opening two thirds right; remember, its free as in speech, not as in beer.

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Yes

        GPL allows you to package and sell content but you must provide source code upon demand. Maybe the guy couldn't or wouldn't. I also read that one of his emulators was ripped off an open source project which had a licence that prohibited commercial sale. So if they complained he was screwed and Google probably yanked all the rest to be sure.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sega has reason here

    Having seen Streets of Rage being sold on the Steam store the other day (Old megadrive/genesis title) I can see why they would want to shut down the free ROMs on the android store.

    If they want to sell the games still (even if they are about £$ or something) they are within their rights to enforce their copyright.

  4. Peter Gordon
    WTF?

    Misleading article

    If an emulator doesn't ship with any BIOS images or copyrighted game ROMs, how is it in any way in breach of copyright?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Your correct, however

      If the emulator doesnt ship with a Bios, its useless (With one or two exceptions, certainly not Sega consoles). Therefore, i suspect it probably does.

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Some emulators don't need a bios

        DOSBox is an emulator of DOS without needing any proprietary firmware. Ghostscript is an emulator / interpretter of Postscript which doesn't need any proprietary firmware. Frotz is a z-machine (infocom adventure) emulator which doesn't need any proprietary firmware.

        So it's not absolutely the case emulators need firmware although obviously many do need them. I would imagine that emulators targetting 8-bit devices could probably be clean roomed if the devs set their minds to it but I can imagine the legal minefield if the platform owners decided to sue anyway.

      2. Paul RND*1000

        Don't know about now

        But I know back a few years ago there were a number of emulators which did not ship with any original firmware code precisely because of legal concerns. They were useless as downloaded. The disclaimer was that you had to legally obtain a copy from your own hardware and of course use your own legally owned software. In practice neither were hard to find online, but the important point was that the emulator author could not be reasonably held responsible for the actions of the user.

        Now if he was shipping ROM images that are still under copyright and aren't licensed for emulator use, or if he took the emulator code from elsewhere and breached whichever license it originally shipped under, then he's the responsible party.

        The ZX Spectrum is the sane, responsible model to follow here. Amstrad retains copyright on the system ROMs but specifically permits use and distribution of them in emulators. Software titles are pulled from the big online archive if the copyright holder comes forward and complains (which is why you won't find Codemasters software on World of Spectrum, for example, but in practice there are very few denied titles out of a catalog of nearly 10,000 games). If the copyright holder can't be found and doesn't come forward it's assumed abandoned until notified otherwise, and more than a few copyright holders and original authors have given their blessing (I understand that some are even quite thrilled that anyone still gives a rat's crap about the game they wrote 20-odd years ago in their bedroom).

  5. Wisteela

    But as it's not Apple...

    I've got Ataroid Lite. Not a problem given they are not the only place to get apps from.

  6. Nick Kew
    FAIL

    and?

    Surely what matters is whether these apps were violating any rules published by google at the time they were introduced.

    If not, then we have a precedent almost as Orwellian as Amazon's.

    Either way we have a story that omits its most important point.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    DVD Drives

    Should we outlaw all media players then?

  8. EddieD

    Oh well, or even Orwelll

    Funny you should mention Orwell, as I was thinking of one his other works...

    "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

    Animal Farm

    Closing open sources, removing apps - they're turning into Apple

  9. Leo Davidson
    Alert

    It's not because they are emulators.

    There are loads of emulators still on Android's market.

    The reason these were removed has been widely reported to be complaints about licence violations filed by the teams who wrote the original emulators which these ones are based on. The Android ports were being sold for (substantial) profit and without making their source available, either/both of which were against the terms of use for the code.

    If there's any kind of scandal here, it's that Google took so long to respond to the complaints, not that they took the apps down. (I've no idea what kind of proof was given to Google, nor how long it took other than a comment I read from one of the original devs saying it was about time, so I don't personally know if Google acted quickly or not. In the past they've been very slow to take down blatant pirate copies of apps, so I imagine it takes them even longer to decide something is using another project's source-code.)

    If this were a complaint by a console manufacturer than you'd expect either all emulators or all emulators for that particular manufacturer to be taken down, not all the emulators made by one particular developer. So the explanation that it's a GPL (or whatever) violation makes sense, and fits with what people have publicly said they have sent complaints to Google about.

  10. blcollier

    Android Market not Open Source

    The Android Market is not open source - the rest of the OS may be, but the Google Apps are not. They're not preventing these applications from running on their OS, they're just removing them from their proprietary market place.

    To be honest, it's a difficult position for Google to be in. If they leave the apps alone, they are at risk of lawsuits from copyright holders - they could claim that Google, by taking no action to remove emulators, are facilitating copyright infringement on their platform. However if they do remove the apps - as they have done - then they will be open to claims that they're not being fair or be accused as being as bad as Apple.

    Given that one of the recent top-selling apps in the Market was an app designed to source ROM files for emulators, I'm not surprised that Google pulled the apps.

  11. dotdavid

    Devs should plan for this

    This isn't entirely unexpected. I don't like the way that Google behaved (no warning, revoking dev account and no proper response to subsequent emails), but it's not exactly out of character.

    If you're an Android dev working in any area which could be seen as contraversial (and emulators are undoubtably one of these) you should take steps to limit your exposure to this sort of thing.

    1) An alternative update system to the Android market. Even if your app just checks for the existence of a file on a server, this will allow you to continue to support users who are left in the lurch if Google do anything.

    2) Good records of who bought your apps and an alternative licensing system. If Google do pull the plug, allow users to exchange their Android market licence for a licence key. This is hard work but can be automated somewhat, although granted not trivially.

    Putting all your eggs in one basket is a bad thing, especially when Google own the basket. Fine, the Market is a good way of getting users, but if your app has a following (like these emulators do) and you have a decent autoupdate system you can get by without it.

  12. Greg J Preece

    There needs to be a new Godwin's Law

    For people mentioning Orwell in any context where they feel "oppressed."

    Because an all-consuming totalitarian regime perpetuating a false war in order to maintain an iron grip on a deliberately undereducated populace is *exactly* like killing off emulators that illegally distribute Sega firmware (or rip-offs).

    Perhaps we could call it Godwin's 2nd Law. Or the "Law of Get a Fucking Grip".

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Preece's Corollary

      Has a nice ring to it.

    2. Nick Kew
      Big Brother

      You misunderstand Godwin

      as do many. Godwin is only invoked when someone likens an opponent in the argument to something-nazi. The mere mention of Hitler may be perfectly valid.

      BTW, my first choice of word there would've been 'Kafkaesque'. But since Amazon's Big Moment involved one of Orwell's own works, the latter is just too appropriate *not* to use.

      The slightly-interesting corollary to Godwin's law arises when someone shows their ignorance by claiming it on clearly-bogus grounds. Which, to be fair, you didn't (though your suggestion that someone posting here might be feeling "oppressed" smells of strawman).

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Copy protection in the Market?

    Don't make me laugh. All Market applications are in /data/app/ and can be so easily mounted as to make a 5 year old wonder about the flaws in their "copy protection".

    Paris, because she made us all think about "copy protection".

  14. g7rp0

    Never thought I would say this but

    Its about time Google started cleaning up a little, sure there are lots of apps but Im always worried about getting them, with the stories of apps being malware which will do various things its about time they became a little more apple-esqe.

    Apps shouldnt be put on there without checks and should be pulled if they turn out to be wrong-uns.

    I love my droid phone and switched from the Iphone to it but I was happier buying from apple than google tbh just cos of the restrictions put in place by apple

  15. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    @Steve The Cynic

    "... or it breaches the DMCA because..."

    Why would the free world give a tuppenny toss about that?

    If merkins want to lock themselves up in dubious legal shackles then that is their right and privilege. If the rest of the world chooses to ignore merkin legislation, then that is theirs.

    Go copyright rocks or something...

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Im not surprised they've gone.

    There is no argument that this developer wasn't breaking copyright laws, the firmware wasn't included in the download, but the app itself has all the links built into it for you to download every single version of the firmware available in 5 or 6 different languages (regions) as well as the links to all the games.

  17. UKLooney
    Thumb Down

    Google Pulled my Emulator from the Market Too

    Up until around 3 months ago, I had a space invaders emulator on the market. The user had to download and install the roms themselves. Google pulled it for copyright infringement, with no recoarse!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google's been up for quite a few lately

    I'm starting to wonder if they won't just disallow alternative markets in Ice Cream Sandwich in the name of security or copyright. Well, for Google Apps certified platforms of course.

  19. MrT
    Big Brother

    I wonder if...

    ... Google's next move will be to throw the killswitch on any banned emulators installed on users' handsets?

    1. blcollier

      Love to see 'em try

      If Google ever started implementing stuff like this the ROM devs will be all over it like a rash, pulling it apart and killing it off. Even if it's part of proprietary apps like the Market and not the open source part, ways will be found to block it. Just like they've done with ad-blocking (which I do not support).

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