Jailbreak, app piracy, and the true cost of theft
Now that the iOS 5.1.1 jailbreak is available for the iPhone 4S, new iPad, and older devices, the subject of jailbreak in general is getting a lot of attention again, and with it, the dark side of jailbreaking. It seems whenever someone wants to attack the very concept of jailbreak, one of the first salvos unleashed is app piracy. The sad, ugly truth is that those attacks are made possible because some people who jailbreak do so mainly or entirely to get "free" apps. And the sadder, uglier truth is that there's no such thing as "free". Everything has a cost. Even and especially theft.
We're going to use the words "theft" and "steal" here instead of piracy because that's what we're talking about. Steve Jobs once raised a pirate flag at Apple as a symbol of their counterculture and ideals, and the jailbreak community has embraced that spirit.
By no means has the jailbreak community embraced theft.
Both iMore and Mobile Nations have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to even the discussion of piracy. We place an incredibly high value on developers and the apps they make, and don't want to play any part, directly or indirectly, in disseminating information that hurts developers, the iOS platform, and the legitimate jailbreak community.
Likewise, prominent jailbreak developers have gone out of their way, numerous times, to distance themselves from app theft and ask those using their software not to steal apps.
There's a reason for that. App theft is not a victimless crime. It hurts the iOS platform, it hurts iOS developers, and because of that, it ultimately hurts iOS users.
Stealing apps isn't free. It comes with a very real cost.
Getting the excuses out of the way
For years people have been copying CDs, DVDs, Blu-Ray movies, games, and anything else they could get their hands on. Ever since media became copyable, people have been copying it. Some have applied philosophical wrappers around it -- that all bits should be free. Others think that since the original version remains, copies don't equate to theft -- you're not taking it away from anyone else. Others justify their actions based on the hostility often displayed towards users by traditional media companies.
The law does allow for copying in some situations, in some jurisdictions. It sometimes allows for copying to make a backup or change format, for example ripping a CD to iTunes or copying iTunes music to a disk. But none of them make allowances for theft.
Another common excuse is availability and price -- if content could only be bought immediately, and at a fair cost, there'd be no content theft. Game of Thrones is the most common current example. HBO won't release it for sale for months, so users go elsewhere to get it. If HBO would only put it on iTunes, Amazon, etc. in a timely manner, the argument goes, no one would be going elsewhere.
Well guess what -- in almost all cases, the App Store and apps do just that.
And not only that, apps are incredibly inexpensive by any reasonable standard. Paid apps are often $0.99 and most iPhone apps top out at $4.99 with very few exceptions. In most cases they're not only less than a cup of coffee or a movie, but substantially less.
Also, Apple allows users to re-download purchased apps. If you deleted an app by accident, it stopped working right, or you got a new iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch you have the ability to re-download your content without having to re-purchase anything. Your purchases are tied to your iTunes ID, not a specific device. Apple even allows you to authorize content on up to 5 computers and, when it comes to apps, practically as many iOS devices as you'd like.
Easily available, cheaply and fairly priced, and automatically backed up. That removes many of the rationalizations and justifications.
Note: There are some regions that don't support the App Store, or specific parts of the App Store, due to local policies on rating requirements or other licensing issues. In those particular cases, in those particular places, stealing apps may seem like the only way for these users to obtain App Store apps or games. This problem typically arises in countries that don't carry the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, in areas where iTunes payments are difficult or challenging, or where Apple is simply not allowed to provide a legitimate service. Still there are legitimate workarounds, like using a U.S. App Store account and loading it with gift cards. If you want to support developers, you'll find a way.
The cost to app developers
When you jailbreak to steal apps you're essentially taking money out of someone's hand, whether it's an independent developer or a development company. App development takes a lot of time and a lot of money.
Apps can and do cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop. That means every sale is important and can make all the difference to a developer -- the difference between continuing an app or canceling it, making payroll or not making it, feeding their family or not feeding them.
If recent statistics are accurate, almost 60% of developers don't break even on costs when developing and executing an app. These costs typically involve marketing, development, graphic design fees, software licensing, and anything else that goes into submitting a fully polished app to the App Store.
These costs don't stop once the app is submitted to the App Store. If the app uses push notifications or has a web server back end, that costs money. Sometimes a lot of money. If a developer wants to provide technical support to their users, a service we've all come to expect, that's also a lot of money. There are considerable recurring costs for any development team that plans on supporting their app and updating it regularly.
Making, maintaining, supporting, and updating an app is incredibly expensive. And there's no promise every developer will ever get all that money back.
That's the cost to developers, and to users who may get less apps developed or updated because of it.
The cost to Apple
Apple owns the iOS platform. Anything that hurts developers hurts Apple. To that end, Apple has tried to implement services such as in-app purchases and iAds so developers can keep prices down and still earn a living. Yet there's more Apple can and should do.
There have been several developers who have reported seeing more players active on Game Center than have actually purchased their game via the App Store. Sometimes by a factor of 10 or more. There needs to be a way to shut stolen apps out of Game Center so there's less incentive to use the stolen versions of games. iTunes knows which apps we've bought. If a game isn't on our purchased list, it shouldn't work in Game Center. That removes the ego gratification of leader boards and the fun of multiplayer unless and until a legitimate copy of an app is purchased.
The same could be done with iCloud for non-game apps. If an app isn't on our purchased list, it doesn't sync, it doesn't back up.
I'm not pretending to know how complicated such a system would be to deploy, or how much it would disincentivize app theft, but it doesn't seem beyond the realm of possibility.
The more popular an app or game is, the higher the likelihood it will be stolen, and the less money a developer will make from it. If developers find they can't make enough money, they'll stop developing those popular apps. That not only hurts users who want great software, but it hurts the platform.
That's the cost to Apple.
The cost to jailbreak's reputation
I've been jailbreaking since iOS 1.x and I've never once stolen an app. For myself and many others out there, jailbreak is a tool to add functionality to our iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs, and iPods -- functionality that Apple won't or hasn't give us stock. I actually think I've spent almost as much money on jailbreak apps as I have stock apps. Yet even though many jailbreakers don't steal apps, the conception that jailbreak is a gateway to app theft is impossible to escape.
I've had people come to me for help with their iPhone, people that don't even know how to use iCloud, but who know all the ins and outs of app theft. They can't be bothered to back up their own data but they'll spend hours and hours figuring out how to screw a developer out of $0.99 or $4.99.
And they cost jailbreak its reputation. They enable jailbreak to be called a tool for app theft instead of a breeding ground for innovation. They enable those who would like to see jailbreak made illegal to couch their self-interest in the flag of criminal justice.
That's the cost paid by the jailbreak community, and by those who jailbreak for legitimate reasons.
The cost to users
I'm not here to give anyone a lecture on morals or ethics. If you're stealing apps, one article probably won't change your mind. Maybe you already know that you're costing developers money, that you're tarnishing the reputation of the jailbreak community, and maybe even that you're hurting the iOS platform. Perhaps you've justified it to yourself by saying developers are rich and you're copying not stealing, or you don't care about the jailbreak community, or that Apple has so much money nothing could ever hurt iOS.
But what about us?
We're all connected.
If you're stealing apps it's because you want apps. Keep stealing them, and the quality and quantity of apps will eventually diminish. If you're jailbreaking, you need the jailbreak community to keep releasing tools for jailbreak. Keep using jailbreak to steal apps and either laws using you as an excuse, or jailbreak developers fed up with how you're misusing their tools will stop providing them. And all of this is dependent on Apple not figuring out a way to shut it all down or make it so time consuming that it might as well be shut down.
I'd like to envision a strong future for jailbreak and for stock iOS. Stealing apps is simply the right way to get all the wrong attention, and to hurt everything you enjoy.
On the other hand, buying the apps you like rewards developers for their hard work and helps ensure they can continue to update those apps, and make more of them, now and into the future. It shows the world that jailbreak is about adding functionality and not stealing money. And it shows Apple that their time and attention is better spent being inspired by jailbreak rather than shutting it down.
If that's not enough, consider the threat: On desktop computers, it's not unheard of for bad guys to modify stolen apps before distributing them, infecting them with malware to infect systems and steal information. That's not meant a as scare tactic, but a warning. "Free" could eventually come at the price of your
Losing apps, losing jailbreak tools, and ultimately losing jailbreak is the cost to users.
For years we've been clamoring for great content, readily available and priced fairly. With the App Store, we have it. The best defense against accusations that jailbreak is all about app theft is simply not to steal apps. The best way to get more great apps is simply to buy the great apps we have today.
There's no such thing as free. Even theft has its price. And we can all choose not to pay it.
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One thing that was missed in the article was the risk of the app code being modified. Not sure if this has been done before for an iPhone app, but with computers, viruses, trojans, key logging etc., can be added.
Anyway, very well done Allyson.
These clowns make me sick. They're the reason why Apple will eventually kill off jailbreaking once and for all.
(Agreed on the clowns though)
It's a shame, and those users still need a slap upside their heads, but the people that steal have such a minimal impact towards the real numbers that I cannot imagine it being such a deathly fear for Apple or the Developers.
I remember reading an article from a developer who created a fairly specific app designed for kids stating that there was a major influx in pirated app usage shortly after it was released. Now, in reality was that honestly from would-be buyers to your app, or is it from the mass thrives who would just download anything because they can and that's where the traffic is from. I believe it's from the latter.
But no one really knows. I'm sure if people put their energy into it, they'd see obvious influx of piracy as soon as a jailbreak is released, but hell, people had to roll with a stock OS for months upon months when their various idevice launched, they obviously couldn't steal then...
I'd really like to see real numbers.
First, how many jailbreakers there are, then how many that run various stolen apps/games and such. I sometimes think that there is more risk for theft of the jailbreak apps (bitesms, lockinfo, etc) than of App Store stuff.
Until more devs start to share real numbers, we're left with a big question mark. As Dev A could have seen a 200% spike in stolen apps, which sounds lime a ton, but not if you're dealing with developers that sell maybe 50 copies, and have, say, 100 steal their creation.
Most people who pirate wouldn't have bought the app anyway, and for those that would, piracy is the only means of a demo. Besides, piracy spreads awareness and increases the likelihood that paying customers will see your app.
This doesn't hurt developers at all. What does truly hurt developers is when script kiddies pirate stuff off of indie devs' private servers, costing them real money. (Case in point: Project Zomboid - http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/06/20/project-zomboid-stricken-by-p...)
Likewise, if developers WANT to spread word and provide demos, they can release LITE and FREE versions of their apps.
If they choose not to, and you steal it, your STEALING it. It might make you feel good to rationalize that you're helping them. You're not. Help them by buying their app so they can afford to support it and make another one.
both arguments are situational.
i don't use twitter often but i tried 6 or 7 pay twitter clients simply because i could. If i didn't jailbreak i'd use a free twitter client simply because i use twitter maybe 3 times a month to check a few people. It's not worth the cost. Second were i inclined to paying for a twitter app i'd have only paid for one, i'd never had paid for 7 simply to test 7. i'd never burn money like that'. i'd research, choose one, and live with my choice. even for just 99c i wouldn't just take a chance.
Another thing is take games. i got two extremely popular but, i think over $7 games. If i was capable of paying i'd never buy those. Games are not that interesting to me and even after having pirated versions i don't play them. Free games satisfy me more.
then there are a few cases where i would buy an app i pirate. it's rare but there are a few.
No amount of argument or whether people would have bought or not is any form of justification.
In addition to this, when it comes to backend servers for push, etc the more 'free' users actually HARMS the system for REAL customers. The more pirated users you have to support the less server resources you have available for true customers.
Also shedding tears for Apple's bottom line is ridiculous.
Also, this poorly written article claimed that file sharing IS theft, explained how by retaining the original copy it ISN'T theft, then concluded with no new evidence that it IS theft.
Is imore in bed with the RIAA/MPAA now or something?
Apple's bottom line is apple's. i'm not shedding a tear but it's their work. I have no right to it.
In bed with riia? Look at the bottom of this page. See that copyright symbol? It's their for a reason. Guess what pretty much every website is in favor of not having their copyrighted content reproduced without their permission. What do you think Mobilenations would do if i opened my own website named mobilenationsx, with imorex, crackberryx, and webosxetc, and started verbatim cutting and pasting ever single article they wrote onto my website, copied every image on the sight, essentially cloned the sight and put my name only on it and started getting ad dollars and page views from them? They'd at the very least send a strongly worded cease and desist letter based correctly on their copyrights claims. And they'd be correct. In bed with RIIA? They don't need to be in bed with them to be square with copyright laws across the globe.
"claimed that file sharing IS theft, explained how by retaining the original copy it ISN'T theft, then concluded with no new evidence that it IS theft." i'm not exactly sure what part of the article you're referring to but i think you confuse the right of a purchaser to make a backup for their own purposes, with the right to make copies for other purposes or the the right to distribute copies over the internet by filesharing with a purchaser does not have merely by buying a cd of dvd.
Also @9wonder, plagiarism is not the same as file sharing. So I have no idea where you got that from.
The logic behind file sharing is sound. To steal is to remove something from your possession. Copying doesn't remove the original so it doesn't fit within the definition of theft.
Like I said, good indy development deserves support and I'm happy to pay what something is worth. Big data mining corporations and bad developers shouldn't expect anything.
To reiterate @Lou, I've never stolen anything. my copy of dead space doesn't mean anyone who wanted it next couldn't get it, just that EA couldn't get my money. Ergo nothing was taken, merely reproduced in an unofficial way.
Not in all cases, but most dig their own graves or get hurt on their own that way.
I also agree with the above poster that the writer cannot be sure that those who "steal" apps (sorry, but I do think there are worthwhile distinctions in there) represent lost revenue, because we do not know if he or she would have purchased it.
I saw that Rene disagreed with the poster, saying that we don't know what the "thief" would've or would not have purchased. That's kind of the point.
Yet, despite all that I've typed here, I also agree with the writer that I dislike how that "theft" casts a shadow on the jailbreak community as a whole. I don't steal apps and I don't "steal" apps. I just have a serious problem with some of the restrictions Apple and the carriers have placed on these devices.
To make this even LONGER, I guess that one could say that jailbreaking at all is "stealing" because those who get apps (paid-for or not) from Cydia might've gotten spent that money or time in the official app store. It's a leap, but not much more than saying someone who grabbed App X for free would've paid for it, if there'd been no free option.
Conversely, by not downloading even the free trial versions or even free premium version promos from those developers that have historically burnt me, and other consumers, on app downloads (the above mentioned EA comes to mind)I can actively cut into the iAds revenue (and other revenue streams) of those shady developers. I tend to be less forgiving of larger developers/software publishers, such as EA, that have the resources to do it right and give users great app expreinces but have failed where so many indy developers, with less resources, have delivered.
It's a pirates life for me....
You want extra features that the iPhone doesn't have, but that comes at the price of the devs. I say either live with the limitations or move to another device. It's your phone but NOT your OS to tinker with. iOS is not android.
Then by your logic, 100% of gun manufactures are responsible for every death by a gun. How about 100% of baseball bat manufactures are responsible for every beating received by a baseball bat. 100% of knife manufactures are responsible for every stabbing.
You've basically taking personal responsibility out of the equation. A thief decides to steal because he or she wants to. Nobody or no company pushed them into it.
Back on topic.... What Jay should do is make it impossible to get to the hacked sources through Cydia. Cydia should be a safe haven for legit jailbreakers.
I do appreciate the ability to customize a users phone for more functional options. Example: Calendar on my lock-screen for future appointments. I do buy Cydia Apps but really like tweaking for functional use.
I haven't pirated any other apps. I've bought many apps from both the app store and cydia, as i agree that app and tweak developers deserve to get paid.
You can say that this group of people are somewhat "forced" to steal because the App Store doesn't offer app trials. Sure, devs can make "Lite" versions, but not all do.
Let me give you an example: I was looking for a podcatcher a year ago and I "stole" all of them, eventually settling on one which I then purchased legitimately. It cost me around $4. If I had to play by the rules, I would've spent $40 on apps I would've launched just once.
However, "stealing" and "theft" are not the right words to use. This is more akin to counterfeiting where product is copied, not taken. There is no direct loss to the developer and to automatically assume that every download was a loss sell is entirely disingenuous.
Beyond that, I am not convinced that app piracy is a big problem or ever will be. The best estimates I've seen put Jailbreaks at ~10% of iOS population, and there are suggestions that the numbers are falling as Apple continues to create a more capable OS. Even if half of those are doing it just to steal apps we're talking about just 5% of the iOS market -- thats not enough to make or break a successful app.
I'll end this by saying that I am an iOS pirate. Keyword: Pirate. I don't agree with the lack of a proper "try and buy" solution in the App store, so I use it as a way to demo apps and decide which I like better.
Now to jump to the other side of why i have returned to jailbreaking: lets be blunt with all the money and technology apple has they could just listen to the consumer and make some of the tweaks made possible by jailbreaking readily available. Right now i have jailbroken my ipad mainly for TV2mirror apple will not lose money if they made this feature available even if they sold it as an app store purchase. I went out and bought the AV composite cables from apple and am using an apple iPad so in the end to make me have to by an apple tv to get a crappy version of mirroring is apple stealing from me now. Secondly apple needs to make a way for people to test an app for a trial before ultimately purchasing it a good example this woud be an app like the "Bible Experience" I already had the CD's and thought that an ioS version would be awesome however 32$ later the app sucks, the developer does not respond to numerous complaints from myself and many others, and till this day the app has yet to be updated. So no matter how self righteous we want to sound or get in the end apple brought this problem upon themselves and ultimately if they wanted to could resolve this with a simple update.
If I see any app that I think I would like, I would love to have the option to try before I buy, just too many lemons out there. I support everyone I get software from even Adobe and I have sent money by paypal to a dev for a free app because it was so cool.
But there is something missing.
I like to try out an app before I buy. Apple does not allow that functionality. You have to buy to find out that the app does not deliver what it promised. I got screwed like that to many times - because of developers wanting to score quick cash and promising to much in the description / functionality.
So now I try an app first via jailbreak community and if I am satisfied then I buy it from App store.
It is not much to pay, but why should I pay for something I am going to delete after disappointing 10 seconds of use?
This is a very small part of what I use JB comunity (2%), but until Apple enables try out apps I will keep doing it. Money does not grow on threes, so I can throw it away on poorly executed apps.
Also, as others have said, it isn't analogous to theft. If I steal a TV from Wal-mart, that is theft, as they can now not sell it to someone else, but even that isn't stealing from the manufacturer, as they have already gotten their money for that TV, it's only a theft from Wal-Mart. With a download of an app, no one is losing a physical copy they can sell. And most of the time, it isn't costing any company the bandwidth the app would use, as it comes from a different source. Sure, piracy is bad, but not as actual theft.
Listen, if an app sucks, the .99 isn't going to hurt me. Even 4.99. Generally, a 4.99 isn't going to suck anyway. I don't need to try before I buy because it's likely that I can't test the app the way I would use it in a certain situation.
Welcome to capitalism, Folks. It great that developers get a chance to make good money using their talents. I am thankful to live in the US where many times, we are the first to get good content. Often the only ones.
Another issue is no trial period in some apps. I'll buy a software if I find it useful to me. I have seen some people saying it's only 0.99. But for people like us whose money is much higher converted from $0.99. It can get me a good square meal in my country of origin. So saying it's only .99 isn't too good for non US people. Also after spending whatever the cost is, if you don't get a support, what do you want to do? Cry for your money? or is Apple responsible for the getting back the money?
I use pirated software's only for testing, if the app doesn't have trial period. And if I like it, I'll buy it straight away. If the App developer is willing to give a few days trial period then there will be more purchase.
Please keep it up!
First of all, if you want to talk about moral and ethics, jailbreaking is a violation of Apple's Terms and Conditions for using iOS. Second, in some instances, jailbreaking can brick your device if not done correctly or you don't know what you're doing. And if you try to get it fixed, voila! Voided warranty from Apple! Thirdly, there's just no point to it. The reason I hear most that people jailbreak is to get custom app icons or shortcuts to Settings. I have an app - on non-jailbroken iOS - that does exactly that. And there are many out there. So really, jailbreaking is risky, and you really don't need to do it. You may find yourself with an incurable white screen, frozen at the Apple logo, just won't turn on at all, or unable to restore, just to name a few.