If someone blatantly copies your app or uses your brand's assets, it will probably make you very angry. But before doing something that you might regret, take a step back and assess your options.
In this post, we will start by giving you brief definitions of copyright and trademark, if you are not familiar with the differences. Then we will show you where to file the complaints and some things to keep in mind before and after submitting a complaint.
Before you file a formal complaint, you should contact the publisher directly and notify them that they are using your intellectual property (IP). It could have been an accident or the work may have been done by a third party developer who didn't know any better.
This simple step can prevent misunderstandings that have the possibility of escalating into time and capital intensive legal action. But if this doesn't work, then there are other actions that you can take.
Before we get started, we are not lawyers and this post is not legal advice of any kind. If you have any questions about intellectual property or any other legal topics, consult a qualified lawyer. The laws referenced here are US laws, so if you do business outside the US, check with a lawyer in your country.
Copyright is the legal right granted to an author or creator for a literary, dramatic or artistic piece of work. As soon as you create an original piece of work and fix it in a tangible medium, the work is automatically protected by copyright law and you are the owner of the copyright.
This is the definition from the Google Intellectual Property help page. The great thing is that any original work is automatically protected, so you don't have to take any additional steps to secure your work. The downside is that it may be difficult to prove that you are the original creator of the work.
The US Trademark and Patent Office defines a trademark as follows.
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. The term “trademark” is often used to refer to both trademarks and service marks.
If your app contains registered trademarks, then it can be easier to prove that someone has infringed on your IP. Registering a trademark is not mandatory, but it does give you presumption of nationwide ownership.
If another publisher is using your trademarked or copyrighted material and has not responded to a simple request to cease and desist, then the next step is to file a complaint with Apple or Google.
To file a complaint with Apple, go to the iTunes Content Dispute page to start the process. This form is for apps only. If you publish any other kind of iTunes content, you will have to use a different form.
Google provides some great documentation on what constitutes copyright infringement and the actions that will be taken if a publisher that violates those laws. Use this page to submit your Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) request against an app that you feel has infringed on your IP.
If the app stores are not able to help you, then you may consider legal action. It is very expensive, so be sure to weigh the potential risks and rewards. Again, consult with a lawyer to get a better idea of your options.
Many times, your time and money are better spent on innovating faster, doing better marketing and providing excellent customer service. Those things are much harder to copy.
Before we end this post, we want to remind you to make sure that you are not using copyrighted or trademarked material improperly or violating any other store policies. If the other app publisher files a counter complaint in retaliation to your complaint and you are found to be in violation, your app could be banned.
Apps that infringe on intellectual property can be deleted without warning. For example, this article is one publisher's account of how his app got deleted for supposedly violating the Google Play spam policy.
If this does happen to you, Google has an appeal process that gives you one last shot at saving your app. Repeated violations will get your developer account banned for life. It is almost impossible to get your account back or register a new account, once you are banned.
Filing a complaint with Google and Apple is straightforward. But we hope that this post has given you some things to think about before and after you file an app copyright infringement complaint.
Having your intellectual property copied is never a fun experience. But being prepared to deal with it, if it does happen, can help you sleep better at night.