U.S. Wraps Up Criminal Prosecution of Pirate App Store Operators

In an international enforcement operation several years ago, the FBI took down three pirate Android app 'stores'. The action resulted in the arrest and indictment of several operators, all based in the US. While the criminal prosecutions progressed slowly, the final case just concluded, resulting in a six month prison sentence.

During the summer of 2012, the FBI took down Appbucket, Applanet, and SnappzMarket, some of the largest pirate app stores at the time.

In the years that followed several people connected to the Android app sites were arrested and indicted, resulting in prison sentences for some.

Aside from the initial announcement, the cases have been handled relatively quietly by the US Government. We can report, however, that after six years all cases that we know of have now been closed.

The last remaining case was that of Gary Sharp, who was indicted in two separate cases.

The Massachusetts man, who’s now in his early thirties, worked as “super moderator” on Applanet’s servers and Facebook page, for which he received a video game as compensation. At SnappzMarket he had a more important role, dealing with finances and the administrative side of the operation.

Sharp never denied his involvement with any of these sites and pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit criminal copyright infringement in both cases. In addition, he provided the FBI with detailed background information and testified in the trial of another defendant.

Based on this cooperative stance, Sharp’s attorney requested a lower sentence, which was granted. A few weeks ago, he was sentenced to a six months prison term, which started on July 14th.

This means that, without any appeals, all pirate app store cases have now been closed.

While the enforcement efforts led to convictions in most instances, the Department of Justice isn’t publicly celebrating. Perhaps that’s due to the stories of the defendants being littered with personal problems and them being far from the hardcore criminals some might expect.

The convicts did, however, help to distribute hundreds of thousands of pirated apps. And while they haven’t made millions, the Government found that they caused substantial losses to the respective copyright holders.

For example, a defendant in Appbucket case, Mr. Blocker, earned $7,222 from his involvement with the site. However, he was held liable for over $750,000 in damages. The defendant faced years in prison, but he eventually received a sentence of two years probation earlier this year.

Two other operators of Appbucket were also sentenced to probation this year, while the founder received a prison sentence of a year and a day. Two Applanet defendants walked free, while two Snapzmarket operators previously received prison sentences of 16 and 46 months.

Most cases ended in successful convictions which will likely deter others from starting similar sites. However, as is often the case with pirate ventures, there will always be people still willing to take the risk.

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