Android App Pirates Plead Guilty In Groundbreaking Prosecution

May 3, 2016, 9:24 AM UTC
Google's Android mobile OS.
Google's Android mobile OS.
Photograph by Bloomberg via Getty Images

Two proprietors of a piracy-based Android app store called Applanet have pleaded guilty to copyright-infringement charges, the U.S. justice department has announced.

According to the DoJ, Applanet distributed four million copies of apps that would have been worth over $17 million if sold legally.

Aaron “Zsak” Buckley, of Moss Point, Mississippi, was just 15 when he founded Applanet. A few years later, in 2012, Applanet was seized by the FBI along with two similar stores, Appbucket and SnappzMarket. The case was the first of its kind, involving coordination between authorities in the U.S., France and the Netherlands.

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In a failed attempt to crowdfund Buckley’s legal defense fund, the “Friends of Aaron” argued that Applanet had simply gotten too big for Buckley to monitor, and people had illegally uploaded copies of Android apps despite his “best intentions.”

However, Buckley, now 22, on Monday pleaded guilty to one count of criminal conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, and one count of criminal copyright infringement. Gary Sharp, 29, of Uxbridge, Massachusetts, also pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge back in January.

Sharp also pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge relating to SnappzMarket, in which he was also involved. Other SnappzMarket conspirators already pleaded guilty to charges back in 2014, as did administrators of Appbucket.

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Out of the three stores, Applanet was apparently the big fish. Prosecutors said Appbucket had distributed apps worth $700,000, and SnappzMarket had distributed apps worth $1.7 million.

Of course, as is always the case with these things, it’s impossible to say whether the apps’ vendors were actually deprived of these amounts, as those who downloaded the pirated versions may not have otherwise paid for the legitimate versions.

Buckley and Sharp’s sentencing will take place on August 1.

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