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Sailing The Mobile App Seas? Thar Be Pirates, Yar!

We are all familiar with the term piracy in the context of modern consumerism and the act of taking something without paying for it; it has been an issue for the music industry, the film industry, and the software industry for many years. The App industry (yes, I know it’s part of the software industry) doesn’t escape unscathed.

Why me?

When you discover that your app has been pirated, you may feel that you are being singled out and targeted, you may think “Why me?” but you are not alone; the majority of decent paid apps on the app store will have cracked versions available. You should feel good about it, your app is worthy of the attention of a pirate.

My Experience

When I first discovered that one of my apps had been pirated, I went through a few different reactions; first I thought, “Cool, my app must be good”, that quickly changed to “Don’t they care that this will damage my business?” so I set about tracking down the pirate to put that question to him. I was surprised to find that he was very apologetic and offered to take the cracked version down immediately, and it was this reaction that got me thinking about whether there was really any harm.

What CAN you do about it?

There are a few things you can do to counter the app piracy; you can report the site to the ISP that it is hosted with, you can add code to make it more difficult for the app to be cracked, you can track down the pirates and demand that they stop, but whether any of these things will make much difference is difficult to say. However, there is a big difference in what you can do and what you should do.

What SHOULD you do about it?

Absolutely nothing. That may seem like a strange stance, but I’ll explain why I think doing nothing is the best approach.

There are two issues concerning app piracy; can you do anything about it? and is it really having an impact on your sales?

The answer to both of these questions is an emphatic, NO. You will waste a lot of time and effort on a fight that isn’t really doing you any damage, and one that you can’t win. If you think you can stop your apps being pirated, ask yourself this question; if it was possible, don’t you think the biggest names in the software industry would have stamped out piracy with their products?

Have you lost app sales because of the pirated version of your app? Well, this is a question that you will never be able to answer, but there are a few points that might make the whole situation more palatable. People who regularly download pirated apps are very unlikely to pay for an app. People who regularly pay for apps are unlikely to download a pirated version of your app. They are entirely different audiences with very little crossover between the two.

There is also a potential benefit to having a pirated version of your app; search results will return any information it finds about your app, from the review sites, from the app stores, and from the sites that offer the pirated versions. Anyone looking for an app like yours may read about the details of your app from a legitimate source, or from the pirates, but it is the same information. So rather than see the pirates as a thieves, see them as an additional marketing resource that may actually be of benefit.

What if they start asking for changes or improvements?

Does it really matter? You are not going to know whether they have bought the real version from the app store, or if they are using a pirated version anyway, but regardless of what version they are using, if someone is making a suggestion for an improvement to your app, you should take it on board and give it the necessary attention.


It is very easy to become consumed by the negative feelings when your app is pirated, and all that negativity will not do you, or your app, any good whatsoever. If you take a more positive outlook on the situation, you can carry on with the job of creating fantastic apps for people to buy and enjoy (and for the pirates to crack), and just ignore the fact that your app has been pirated, safe in the knowledge, that it isn’t really going to have any negative impact. When you discover a site that has a pirated version of your app, leave a friendly comment to point the legitimate app purchasers to your app on the app store.

I will admit that I still find it slightly annoying when I see a link to the pirated version of any of my apps, but only because I think that they may be doing a better job at marketing the pirated version than I am with the real app! I also seem to get better ratings on the pirate sites than I do on the app store.

Guest post by Jez Harper, Head Honcho and Technical Directory over at Tús Nua Designs, an Irish based iPhone iPad Android App development studio.