Apple Bringing Down the Axe On Aggregators, e-Books and e-Readers

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Normally, Apple removes apps from the App Store at a rate we can digest and analyze, but it looks like it’s now adopting a different tactic, maybe to frustrate criticism with sheer volume. This time around, it has given the boot to a stunning 900 apps in one fell swoop. The apps aggregated various web content, and charged $4.99 for the service, despite not being copyright holders of any of it.

The app’s developer, a company called Perfect Acumen owned by one Khalid Shalik, employed 26 Indian and Pakistani programmers who churned out 943 apps last year alone. The purpose of all of the apps was to grab content tailored to a specific target audience and just display it on the iPhone. Even this simple task it didn’t handle very well, according to user reviews, which mainly criticized the app, and worse still, Perfect Acumen held no copyrights for any of the content they republished, including photos of hot celebrities, which tend to catch the attention of fair-use publication enforcers.

According to The iPhone Blog, Apple says it revoked Perfect Acumen’s developer account and removed the apps when Shalik or any company representative failed to respond to any of the 100+ complaints Apple received as a result of the applications. Other developers also criticized Acumen’s shady marketing tactics. All in all, it seems like for once, Apple’s review process actually got something right, albeit belatedly.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Perhaps as a direct result of the kinds of complaints received against Perfect Acumen, Apple seems to be clamping down on all content source provider apps, according to Erica Sadun at TUAW. First to go are e-book applications, which, according to TUAW’s sources, are now being met with a blanket rejection policy because of third-party rights infringement. Like its stance on charitable applications, it just doesn’t want the onus of having to vet each app for the accuracy of its claims.

The policy appears to be a blanket one, though, and covers even apps where the developer is the owner of the content, or has the right to reproduce it and can prove it. It’s bound to be a major door-closing for app store developers, and one that will only continue to sour developer sentiment towards Apple and the way it does business. Finally, the icing on the cake, all e-book readers apparently also now run afoul of Apple’s policies (which might explain the lack of a Stanza update in recent memory).

It’s one thing to make sure you’re covered when it comes to legitimate accusations of enabling copyright infringement, but it’s another altogether to wage war on an entire subcategory (literally, since “Books” is one of the App Store’s categories of apps) of software. I suspect this has something to do with the rumored launch of a tablet-type device in the fall, which is said in some circles to have e-reader capabilities.

If so, this preemptive thinning of competition borders on the sinister, and I’m seriously considering a permanent switch to RIM just to protest these shady business practices. That said, there’s still plenty of opportunity to prove me wrong Apple. Let’s hope you do.

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