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Courts Slowly Build Tech Case Law: App Thieves Punished

Courts Slowly Build Tech Case Law: App Thieves Punished

The Justice Department's prosecution of mobile app pirates is good news for developers. Read on for more about what took them so long and why the law lags behind tech.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014/Categories: intellectual-property

Political news site The Hill reports good news for mobile app developers: the Justice Department has officially convicted its first mobile app pirates. These criminals set up app piracy sites called Appbucket and Snappzmarket, which allowed users to download premium apps for free, distributing more than $1 million worth of copyrighted mobile apps.

These sites functioned much the same way that Napster, MegaUpload, and other piracy sites functioned for other kinds of media. And just as those other file-sharing sites have been shut down, this conviction may be a sign of more prosecutions to come as the Justice Department looks to stop other mobile app pirates and protect developers' intellectual property.

This is good news for developers and coders as it means the law is protecting their copyrighted apps. But it raises an interesting question: why did it take so long for these sites to come down?

Stopping Mobile App Piracy: Why the Long Wait?

The slow nature of the legal system often means that tech contractors aren't as well protected as they should be. Case in point: the two mobile app pirates have been running their sites since 2011 and are just now being convicted. And they are the first mobile app thieves to be convicted.

The iPhone debuted in 2007 – surely there have been other cases of app piracy besides these two guys! In fact, an article on The Verge claims that 60 percent of Android apps are now pirated.

This case reveals a larger point about IT lawsuits: the law changes slowly, lagging behind new technological changes, and often not protecting IT businesses from piracy or shielding them from lawsuits.

Think about how quickly the tech world changes. Every few months you hear about a new web service, wearable tech, or a startup company that's doing something completely innovative. That's what makes tech fun.

But it's that same speed that creates all kinds of problems with the law. When a judge makes a decision on a case, they will look back on old cases or (to use the legal term) "precedents." The judge then compares the current case to what other courts have decided and makes her decision.

In this sense, the law is more than just the rules people abide by. It's actually the history of how those rules have been enforced for specific companies. But the rapid pace of technological advancements often means there simply aren't precedents for the kind of work you do.

(For an example of recent legal precedent for data breaches, see "$3 Million Settlement Paves the Way for Non-Identity Theft Data Breach Awards.")

How Does the Law Protect IT Liabilities?

The lag between the tech world and the legal one is complicated when it comes to IT lawsuits. Say a client sues you about a cloud service you recommended. A judge will look back over all the cases about cloud service data breaches…but wait, there aren't many!

In these situations, you're more exposed to risk because there's not much legal history protecting IT contractors and developers. In a sense, you're on the front lines of lawsuit precedent. That's not a good position to be in.

Furthermore, IT professionals are put in a difficult situation in court. You have to explain to judges and juries why you're not at fault for a data breach or technical failure. To do this, you'll have to explain how the technology involved works. Imagine having to convince a judge that an error in an old version of Java led to a data breach, so you shouldn't be sued.

A technical explanation is may confuse the judge, who might think you're trying to pin the blame on someone else.

What to Do about Legal Lag?

Because the law doesn't protect new tech industries as well as it should, it's especially important for IT contractors to protect themselves. Errors & Omissions Insurance (aka Professional Liability Insurance) offers much of the protection you'll need. E&O pays for legal expenses associated with lawsuits over your IT work. Even if you face an inhospitable judge, your insurance can pay for the damages.

To learn more, check out these free sample E&O Insurance quotes for IT contractors.

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