Music piracy has come to the phone - specifically the Android platform, which has begun harboring several apps designed to download songs directly to the phone.
Google, however, has apparently begun playing a sort of "whack-a-mole" with the apps themselves on the Android Marketplace, as copycat apps pop up and are quietly deleted. A representative for the company also defended the company's policy of allowing developers to publish apps without prior Google approval.
Third-party apps like Music Junk, Music Wizard, Pandemonium, Tunee Music, MP3 Music, and Music Zilla all share a common purpose: to bypass music stores like Apple's iTunes or Amazon's music store in favor of free downloads. Music Junk and one version of Music Wizard have since been deleted after PCMag.com began researching the story, but Tunee Music, MP3 Music, and Music Zilla all appear to be new.
The apps differ somewhat from traditional peer-to-peer apps like Limewire, Kazaa, or even BitTorrent files, in that only individual songs can be downloaded, instead of whole albums or even gigabytes of top hits compressed and stored in a .ZIP file. In 2006, Paul Jessop, the chief technology officer for the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, told an audience of content executives that those who shared individual files were not worth the effort to try and track down and prosecute.
Applications, however, are a different matter. Napster, of course, was shut down and forced into becoming a licensed reseller of copyrighted content. Grokster was found guilty of inducing copyright infringement, and, more recently, LimeWire was sued again for copyright infringement.
But none of the Android apps allow users to share songs; instead, the song is downloaded from either an anonymous location or an identifiable third-party server, such as the kite.zzdevelop.com server identified in the Music Zilla screenshot. Whether those files are actively being shared or simply scraped from hidden directories is unknown.
Once on the phone, however, those songs are typically stored on the phone's flash card, and can be copied off the phone to a PC or another device.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) recently identified six "most wanted" sites that contribute to music piracy: China's Baidu, Canada's IsoHunt, Ukraine's mp3fiesta, Germany's RapidShare, Luxembourg's RMX4U.com, and Sweden's The Pirate Bay. The RIAA has said it supports findings by the Institute for Policy Innovation which conclude that global music piracy causes $12.5 billion of economic losses every year.
In general, users that have downloaded the apps have been excited to find free music, based on the comments left on the app pages on the Android Market. The one drawback apparently has been the dearth of newly released music, which apparently hasn't made it to the apps' servers as yet.
Of the apps, all are free except for Pandemonium, from "Android Music," which charges $2.99. "It's like having an infinite iPod!" the app advertises.
Unlike Apple, which actively screens and approves apps, Google's Android Market does no such thing. Google's Android terms of service makes it clear that it does not typically monitor applications: "While Google does not intend, and does not undertake, to monitor the Products or their content..." section 7.2 of Google's Android Developer Agreement begins.
However, if Google becomes aware that the app meets one of the following conditions, it may be taken down, the agreement adds: it violates the IP rights of a third party; it violates the law; is either pornographic, obscene, or violates Google's hosting policies; is improperly distributed; contains malware or spyware, or impacts the integrity of Google's servers.
The RIAA, meanwhile, has been on the case. "We are aware of those applications and others like them," Liz Kennedy, deputy director of communications for the RIAA, said in a statement. "We have made Google aware of apps that violate the Google policy and promote illegal activity."
Google representatives defended its open-door policy. "Android Market is an open distribution channel for mobile applications," a spokeswoman for the company said in an emailed statement. "We want to reduce friction and remove barriers that make it difficult for developers to make apps available to users, so developers are free to upload their applications to Android market. Applications are not reviewed before appearing on the Market, but can be taken down if we are notified that they violate various policies. A developer must also agree to abide by our Developer Distribution Agreement and Content Policy in order to upload an application to Android Market."
he applications appear to work either using Wi-Fi or by using the carrier network directly, where they would count against a user's allocation of bandwidth. From a bandwidth perspective, however, the apps would mimic licensed music services such as Slacker and Rhapsody, which stream music over the network. Google's proposed music service, announced at its Google I/O conference, would take that a step further by allowing users to stream their own music, stored on a connected home PC, to their phone.
In some cases, copycat apps have popped up, apparently sharing code. Music Wizard's interface, for example, looks much like Music Zilla, even though the developers use different names. And Music Junk, an app which was available for download last week, disappeared by press time. But, based on comments on AndroidLib.com, Music Junk had apparently surfaced previously, most recently in Dec. 2009.