I’m still getting lots of comments and emails about Pokédroid, which was taken down from the Android Market last month due to a DMCA notice from The Pokémon Company. (See these posts.) Most of my blog traffic still seems to come from Pokédroid-related searches, which is not surprising given the more limited appeal of my other apps. (What – you guys aren’t as excited about my system log reader?) So I thought I’d do a little round-up of the commentary on Pokédroid and get everyone up to speed on where the app currently stands.
Tim Oliver, the developer of iPokédex, informs us that the app removal process for iPhone Pokédexes has now begun. The timing seems about right, given that the TPC lawyer I spoke to said that Apple’s process takes a bit longer than Google’s. Tim and other iOS developers are in talks with TPC right now, but if their experience is anything like mine, we can expect iPhone apps to be removed shortly.
None of this should be surprising, given that TPC is now venturing into territory previously occupied by fan developers. The recently released Pokédex 3D app for 3DS, although not a true strategy guide like Pokédroid, makes it clear why TPC would start to view fan-made apps as unwanted competition. The rhythm-action Pokémon games coming to Android and iPhone make this point even less ambiguously.
Liam Pomfret, the head of Bulbagarden, has been my most helpful contact point throughout this whole process, and he has an interesting editorial on Bulbanews laying out TPC’s case for taking down Pokédex apps. It’s very persuasive, and if nothing else it splashes some cold water on the impulsively negative fan reaction. He points out that all fan-made media (including Bulbagarden itself) is in violation of TPC’s copyrights, and so TPC is within its legal rights to selectively allow or disallow whatever content it wants. It’s debatable whether or not taking down Pokédex apps is actually in TPC’s own self-interest (I’ve argued it’s not), but the legal case is pretty difficult to dispute.
And in fact, even if Pokédex developers like myself did have a good case, we probably wouldn’t be doing ourselves any favors by taking it up in court. Recently there was the case of the Miles Davis afficionado who ended up paying $30,000 for a copyrighted photo he used in a tribute album. This was without any admission of guilt, and despite the fact that his lawyers thought they would have had a decent case if they had actually pursued it. The $30,000 settlement was simply the least expensive option available to him.
Now this may surprise you, but Pokédroid, as a hobby app, is not worth $30,000 to me. And if you think I could just get 30,000 of my 150,000 active users to each chip in a buck and cover my legal expenses, then you’ve never developed a mobile app before.
This is why I’ve rejected requests to open-source Pokédroid. As Liam pointed out above, open-source licenses still presume ownership of the IP content in the code, which means I’d be making myself a legal target just by publishing the code base. Even though I’m a die-hard Linux user who loves open-source, I have to admit that this isn’t really the time or place for it.
Anyway, I’ve been on good terms with TPC so far, so I have no incentive to do anything to try and spite them. Everyone I’ve spoken to at TPC has been very courteous and respectful towards me, and they’ve taken obvious care to explain their point of view and avoid any misunderstandings. They’ve even mentioned reading my blog posts (hullo out there!), so they’ve obviously got their finger on the pulse of the fanbase, and aren’t acting hastily or thoughtlessly.
My hope right now is just that they will offer to license Pokédroid or rebrand it as an official Pokémon app. In my ideal world, they would also let me open-source it, possibly in exchange for my help with the rebranding process. That way, I could gracefully hand the reins over to other fan developers (who would probably be more hardcore Pokémaniacs than me, and thus more diligent contributors), but the app would still remain an officially licensed product. TPC could continue to disallow unofficial apps on the Android Market if they wanted, but anybody would be able to contribute to the official app. The same community involvement that made Bulbapedia strong could make Pokédroid the best Pokémon resource on any mobile platform.
Admittedly, this scenario is a little starry-eyed. But even if TPC wasn’t keen on the open-source idea, I still have 19,000 lines of code that could save them a ton of time if they decided to build their own Android Pokédex app. Hopefully they’ll take me up on my offer, so that Pokédroid can get back in the Market, and back in the hands of the fans who find it so useful.