So You Code File-Sharing Apps? Get Smart With Your Marketing

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With the annihilation of Grokster in the middle of the last decade and the recent destruction and humiliation of LimeWire, one might have thought that all prospective file-sharing developers would be proceeding with caution. Not so. In fact, some are painting big targets on their chests with "Sue Me!" right in the middle. Coding geniuses, it's time to get smart.

At the start of the millennium and despite the woes suffered by Napster, there was a huge enthusiasm in the developer community to turn out file-sharing applications. During the years that followed dozens of clients appeared and while some prevailed, many of them fell by the wayside, victims of an over-crowded market.

Others, such as Kazaa, eDonkey, iMesh and Bearshare, enjoyed great success but were slaughtered and/or reanimated into friendly forms by the international recording industry. But it was the 2005 United States Supreme Court decision in MGM Studios v Grokster which drew an important line in the sand.

That hugely complicated case underlined an important message – don’t create a product and promote it for infringing uses.

As we’ve seen from the recent dismantling of LimeWire, that lesson still eludes some and almost unbelievably it’s still being repeated today. What am I talking about? File-sharing client marketing.

A few weeks ago TorrentFreak learned that Cydia, the alternative market place for iPhone apps, were taking a harsh line on file-sharing software. We aren’t talking about an Apple-style blanket-ban on anything with the word ‘torrent’ in the title, but what appears to be an analysis by Saurik, Cydia’s owner, of what might be deemed illegal.

We know of at least two developers who have had their quite decent apps kicked out by Cydia, a victim of their apparent “one strike and you’re out” policy. But it appears that the apps were excluded not due to their functionality, but because of marketing missteps.

Paraphrasing one developer’s marketing blurb, the suggestion was that the app was great, not only for legal downloads but for “not so legal” downloads too. It’s just a few words but they clearly make all the difference.

Another coder, who made a suite of what look like perfectly nice apps for accessing various torrent sites and managing downloads, threw in some beautiful screen shots of the software in action. Whether those TV show download listings in among the nondescript stuff were intentional or not is impossible to say. Nevertheless, the outcome wasn’t good.

As is often the case, TorrentFreak recently received an email from a company promoting a new Mac torrent client, which came with a nice little promotional video. The video demo showed the shiny new client in action – downloading a discography of a very famous mainstream label singer. This, from a company who has clearly invested quite a lot of cash into their products. Why take this kind of chance?

Then just a couple of weeks ago an informative news article was published which mentioned the growing use of mobile apps. In it a respectable developer admitted that his app was mainly used for downloading TV shows. If that app goes huge in the future, what kind of damage would a confession like that cause? Following in the steps of LimeWire is great for a while but it ultimately ends in years of sleepless nights and $100m+ in damages.

There are some brilliant minds out there, coding some awesome applications and while some of them will wither and die, others will go on to greatness and bring the creator the satisfaction dreamed about during those long nights with just a screen, a bucket of coffee and a table lamp for company.

OK, not all software creators or indeed site operators care about or even need to abide by US laws due to their mindset or geographic location. They have chosen their path, are comfortable with it, and are doing what they do best. They are aware that their troubles will grow in parallel with their successes and they will morph, outmaneuver, hide or give the finger to their adversaries – that is their prerogative.

But for those who are positively out of the shadows and actively courting the US and increasingly the European markets, behaving today in a way in which one wouldn’t mind being judged by tomorrow might prove incredibly valuable. And make no mistake, that judgment standard is getting tougher every year.

That said, the good news for software devs is that maintaining respectability (for want of a better word) doesn’t devalue a product in any way, indeed it adds value. And it costs absolutely nothing, just a pause for thought.

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