Publish your GPL apps on Google Play sooner rather than later


#1

(TL;DR: “App-squatters” might publish your app in Google Play, so publish them first if you ever plan to)

Over the last 6 months or so I’ve published several opensource apps on F-Droid. Eventually I decided I’d publish them on Google play. When I started to, I noticed a problem. Several of my apps were already on Google Play. Someone had taken the source, added ads, and published them in the store.

This is annoying, but allowed by the GPL, as long as they follow all the rules. In each case, however, they did not. None of them had links to the modified source, but still included my “about” pages which contained my name and links to my source. This gave the rather unfortunate appearance that the app that I wrote had terrible ads which pop up every few minutes.

In each case, I used the email listed in Google Play to tell them they were violating the copyright (and damaging my reputation), and asked them to please add a link to their modified source. In each case, after two days, I received no response.

So, I submitted copyright violations to Google using the tool found on this page.

For the “Existing examples of the content” section, I listed my source repository URL, the F-Droid application page, and a brief bit of text stating that the app was mine, the source was GPL-protected, the source code had been modified, and the user was failing to provide a link to the modified source, therefore my copyright was violated.

I was doubtful Google would take action, but within two days the offending apps were removed!

However, to publish my apps I still had to rename the package because Google kept the old name logged as belonging to the other user.

Also, I missed one of the non-GPL-complying apps in my copyright-violation notices, and so when I published mine yesterday, my app was flagged as a policy strike for “impersonation” because it was identical to the existing one. I’ve submitted a claim stating that I am the copyright holder and therefore have the right to publish, but this means that anyone who doesn’t have their app already published there might be in for trouble later.


#2

Thanks for that. Its definitely a crappy situation, especially since you have to pay Google to put your apps up on Play. For people who don’t want to publish there but just block impersonators from using your packageName, you can set up your app on Google Play, and just not make it public. Or keep it in alpha/beta status


#3

Yes, a placeholder app in beta should probably work as well! Of course, you’ll need to pay $25 for the developer account, but after that you can put as many apps as you need.

On the “identical app” front: An unhelpful Google support person has denied my appeal because it’s almost identical to the other app, even though I am the copyright holder and 100% developer. Hopefully they’ll process my copyright report swiftly, and that actually clears up the problem. This is annoying.

Google Play may be bigger, but at least F-Droid doesn’t jerk developers around :slight_smile:


#4

We had the same issue with our app. Now we decided to upload the app to GPlay to reserve the appid, but disable the app afterwards. That way the id is reserved, but the app is still an FDroid exclusive :slight_smile:


#5

So that effectively gives Google 25 dollars for every bogus developer, and leaves users none the wiser? Guessing ad-revenue is revoked too.

How about, make the app, now it is 50, but, say an ad-free version exists on F-droid, either with ads for F-droid or the default ones.

I advertise adblocking with my gratis ad-sense, so there is that to hope for.

Probably all of the above is not in line with their terms of service, so it could mean no official playstore app ever.

What I wonder is what happens to users that get the wrong chain of trust app, then it goes away, and another comes into the fray?

Will it be a straight update?

I imagine the same is true for pulling your app off the playstore. Can you leave it hidden?

Are people going to squat good app-names for 25 dollars with junk apps and sit on them till real money comes around?


#6

This has happened to me too, and even though the application was MIT licensed back then, it’s really mean that people shamelessly copy your application, rename it a bit, and change the links in it to their websites instead with no further information.

Sure it may be possible but that’s not being so nice and it’s really annoying (reason why, from now on, I will use GPL when I find it necessary). Lesson learnt, guess I should create that developer account soonish.


#7

“Are people going to squat good app-names for 25 dollars with junk apps and sit on them till real money comes around?”

Like domain names but with namespaces :rofl:


#8

What about a collective fdroid google play account :smiley:?
That way google only gets 25€ once, but foss devs can still reserve their appid on the play store. One issue would be who gets to manage that account, so don’t take my idea too seriously.


#9

Only to know, how i publish an app done from a developer with GPL v3 on play store without create a copyright violation? I see a good app with GPLv3 and i modify it and then what i have to do? What are the steps? Thanks only to know and if this can be useful for all.
I make app but, I don’t know much how use the licence.


#10

I’m no lawyer, but my understanding is that, legally, as long as you:

  1. Include the license file
  2. keep the original copyright notices,
  3. make the modified source available/link to it,
  4. and make it obvious what you’ve changed,

everything should be good. ( see also: https://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-violation.html )

However, if you want to be nice and want to stay on the good side of the developers, you could consider contributing your changes back to the original project instead, if they are open to the changes you made. They may want to publish the app eventually, so asking if they are going to publish would be good. If they aren’t interested in publishing, fork the project (and change the package name) and point to your fork so that it’s clear that you are the person who will (potentially) take care of bug reports, feature requests, etc (and that way the original developers won’t get blamed for ads or privacy problems).

Anyone have any other/better advice?


#11