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Feds Seize Alternative Android App Markets For App Piracy

Three Websites distributing illegal copies of smartphone apps have been ordered to shut down by the federal government, the Justice Department said on Tuesday.

Seizure orders have been executed against three websites operating as alternative app markets, the United States Department of Justice said in a statement. Criminal copyright laws apply to apps for phones and tablets, just as they do for other types of software, music, and writings, said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates of the Northern District of Georgia.

The three domains—applanet.net, appbucket.net, and snappzmarket.com—have been seized by the federal governments. Visitors to those sites will be shown a banner message notifying them the domain has been seized and that willful copyright infringement is a federal crime, according to the statement.

This is the first time website domains involving cell phone app marketplaces have been seized, according to the Department of Justice.

“We will continue to seize and shut down websites that market pirated apps, and to pursue those responsible for criminal charges if appropriate,” said Yates.

The seizures were the result of an operation which involved both Dutch and French law enforcement, the Department of Justice said. Nine search warrants were also executed in Southern District of Mississippi, the Middle District of Florida, the Western District of Michigan, the Southern District of Indiana, the District of Rhode Island, and the Northern District of Texas as part of the operation.

As part of its investigation, FBI agents downloaded thousands of copies of popular copyrighted mobile device apps from the alternative online markets suspected of illegally distributing pirated copies, the Justice Department said in its statement. In most cases, the servers hosting the apps sold on these alternative app markets were based in other countries.

The websites seizures are part of the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property's efforts to combat the growing number of domestic and international intellectual property crimes, according to the Justice Department. The FBI is also a full partner at the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center. The IPR Center relies on information shared between its 19 member agencies to investigate copyright infringement allegations and coordinate enforcement actions.

Software apps have become an "increasingly essential part of our nation's economy and creative culture" and the Criminal Division would protect the creators of these apps and other forms of intellectual property from thieves, said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division. Cracking down on piracy of copyrighted works, including mobile apps, is top priority, Breuer said.

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Fahmida Y. Rashid is a Senior Contributing Writer for SecurityWeek. She has experience writing and reviewing security, core Internet infrastructure, open source, networking, and storage. Before setting out her journalism shingle, she spent nine years as a help-desk technician, software and Web application developer, network administrator, and technology consultant.