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Hollywood targets "rogue" mobile apps in war on pirated content

The entrance to the Time Warner Center is seen at Columbus Circle in New York August 4, 2010. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
The entrance to the Time Warner Center is seen at Columbus Circle in New York August 4, 2010. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Sue Zeidler

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood studios, which for years have waged a war against online piracy, are now going after so-called "rogue" mobile apps that use images from movies and television shows without their permission.

Time Warner Inc Warner Bros Studio sent Google Inc a "take down" notice late last week demanding that the Internet company remove from its app store "Hobbit 3D Wallpaper HD," a mobile app that uses images of the Oscar-nominated film, according to a spokesman for the studio.

Google responded to Warner's notice and removed the app within days, in the latest example of how Hollywood is stepping up its efforts to protect its intellectual property in the quickly expanding app market, which is pegged at $20 billion in 2013.

For many studios and other content providers, mobile apps are a new source of income and a powerful way to engage audiences, sell games and merchandise. But these revenues are threatened if developers do not pay licensing fees.

Walt Disney Co's Marvel unit, Sony Corp, Viacom Inc's Paramount, and News Corp's Twentieth Century Fox and Warner have all submitted infringement notifications to Google, according to information made available by Google and posted on ChillingEffects.org.

The apps targeted by the studios contain images from movie titles such as "Clash of the Titans," "Spiderman," and "Green Lantern" and TV shows like "Glee" and "Gossip Girl."

A Google spokesman declined to discuss any specific take down requests. He cited the company's policy to remove apps that show clear cases of copyright infringement and then notify the app developer.

The "Hobbit 3D Wallpaper HD" app was developed by Any View, which did not return an email from Reuters requesting comment.

Comcast's NBC Universal also issued a notice of infringement on apps using images of its film "Ted," according to documents on ChillingEffects.org.

"We have spoken with studios that represent several of the properties and they are actively monitoring unlicensed mobile apps," said Reggie Pierce, chief executive officer of IP Lasso, which monitors brands on mobile apps.

IP Lasso recently surveyed 100 apps that mentioned Oscars or the Academy Awards, and found that 90 percent of those apps available on major app stores, like Google Play and Apple Inc's app store, contain content that may not have been authorized by studios, TV networks or other creators, said Pierce.

Tom Neumayr, a spokesman for Cupertino, California-based Apple, declined to comment on the specifics of any infringing apps, but said the company vets all apps before making them available.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) said it is expanding its surveillance of apps that link users to sites that offer pirated films.

"Smartphone apps that provide a direct link to infringing content have become a growing problem that needs to be addressed," said Marc Miller, senior vice president for internet content protection for the MPAA.

"Not only do these apps offer access to creative content that has been illegally copied, but they also pose risks to consumers from malware and often fail to provide viewers with the quality product they could often get through a growing number of legitimate sources," he said.

About 46 billion apps were downloaded in 2012, generating $12 billion in worldwide revenues from sales, advertising and in-app purchase, according to research firm Research and Market. The numbers of apps are expected to nearly double to 83 billion this year, and to generate $20.4 billion.

"With the rise of the second screen comes a new band of villains who pose a serious threat to the entertainment industry's move to mobile," said Pierce.

"Consumers have been led to believe if an app is available through iTunes or Google Play, then it must be safe."

(Editing by Ronald Grover in Los Angeles, Tiffany Wu in New York and Stephen Coates in Sydney)

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