US gov't secures guilty plea from Android app pirates

One man involved in the case faces up to five years in prison for distributing copyrighted apps without permission.

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American prosecutors have announced that men involved in running two former Android app piracy websites have pleaded guilty to copyright infringement. This is the first successful prosecution of pirate app stores on record.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) shut down two websites, and, in 2012. The websites sold copyrighted applications through a marketplace alternative to the Google Play store, and apps were sold without the knowledge or permission of developers and owners.

The DoJ estimates that the scheme involved the distribution of copyrighted apps with a total retail value of more than $700,000, and Appbucket alone generated over $80,000 in subscription revenue over the two years the website was active.

Charges were filed against four men in January 2014. Two of the men, Appbucket admins Nicholas Anthony Narbone, 26, of Orlando, Florida, and Thomas Allen Dye, 21, of Jacksonville, Florida, have now pleaded guilty of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement by distributing the Android applications.

Nabone was allegedly the leader of Appbucket, where the team reproduced and distributed over one million copies of copyrighted Android mobile applications through the "alternative online market." 

The two men will be sentenced in the coming months after securing plea agreements with the U.S. government. According to Dye's plea agreement, released by Ars Technica, he faces up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. In addition, Dye has agreed to act "in an undercover investigative capacity to the best of his ability" if the US government requires such.

"These mark the first convictions secured by the Justice Department against those who illegally distribute counterfeit mobile apps," said Acting Assistant Attorney General O’Neil. "These men trampled on the intellectual property rights of others when they and other members of the Appbucket group distributed more than one million copies of pirated apps. The Criminal Division has made fighting intellectual property crime a top priority, and these convictions demonstrate our determination to prosecute those who undermine the innovations of others in new technologies."

The other two suspects, Kody Jon Peterson and Thomas Pace -- the latter responsible for finding apps and managing the website's servers -- have charges outstanding.