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Does a site operator need a permission from the app owner by a contract or something like that to run a site where people pay for and download apps? If this is true how can someone get such permission? Does it cost money?

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    From what I understand of your question, you want to create a website that will host applications created by third parties to sell to the general public? Something similar to the Apple App Store, or the Google Play Store?
    – Showsni
    Mar 2 at 12:44
  • As edited, this does not ask for specific legal advice as that has been defined on law.meta. I urge others to vote to reopen this question. Mar 2 at 20:34
  • This thread is no mentioned in the meta post at law.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1185/… Mar 3 at 16:08

1 Answer 1

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Assuming that the question is how one creates a site on which to sell apps created by others to the general public, this depends on how the app has been released.

Apps are pretty much always creative works, and as such are protected by copyright. The initial owner of the copyright is the developer, or in some cases the developer's employer. However the copyright may be sold, given, assigned, left, or otherwise transferred to another.

The copyright owner has the exclusive right to make, or authorize the making of, copies of the protected work. The copyright owner also has the exclusive right to distribute the work to the public, or authorize its distribution. In US law these are protected by 17 USC 106. In other countries such rights are protected by the various local copyright laws. These rights are also guaranteed by the Berne Copyright Convention Specifically, Article 9, paragraph 1 of the convention reads:

(1) Authors of literary and artistic works protected by this Convention shall have the exclusive right of authorizing the reproduction of these works, in any manner or form.

A website that allows the public to download apps, whether for a fee or for free, involves both making copies of the apps, and distributing them to the public. As such it requires permission from the copyright owner. In the absence of such permission, the site operator is engaging in copyright infringement.

Some apps have been released by their owners under permissive licenses which allow others to copy and distribute them for a fee. A site could legitimately host any app whose copyright owner has so released it.

In the absence of such a permissive release, the distributor must obtain permission. There is no standard method of doing this. One must find some way to communicate with the owner, or some authorized agent of the owner, and ask. If one cannot find the owner, or the owner does not respond, this must be treated as a refusal, and the app may not be distributed. Some owners list contact info in their apps or the documentation.

The copyright owner may demand a fee for such permission. This could be a fixed advance fee, or a per-copy or percentage fee royalty, or both, or some other fee structure. The owner may also require some specific form of attribution, or make other conditions. Any such conditions must be complied with. It is usual for the owner's agreement to be incorporated into a binding contract, but this is not strictly required.

Distribution without permission is copyright infringement, unless an exception to copyright applies. In the case described above, providing a site for retail purchase of apps written by various others, it is hard to see how any exception would apply. The US concept of fair use pretty clearly would not apply.

The owner may bring suit against an infringer. If the owner wins such a suit, the owner may be awarded monetary damages, and a court order against further infringement. In some cases the owner may also be able to collect legal fees and other costs of suit from the infringer. The exact rules for damages vary by country, and the details will vary with the particular case. In the US, under 17 USC 504 the owner may elect to get statutory damages (which can be up to $150,000 per work infringed for willful infringement) or actual damages, which include both losses to the owner, and any profits made by the infringer.

In some cases copyright infringement may also be a crime, and can be prosecuted by the government. In the US, 17 USC 506 makes infringement a crime when the infringement is:

  • "purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain", and
  • of copies with the retail value of over $1,000 during a period of 6 months.

However, my understanding is that actual prosecution by the US Justice Department is unusual unless infringement is carried out on a major commercial basis, well over the statutory threshold.

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