Pirated Video Content on Apple’s App Store

Guest post by The App Whistleblower, who wishes to remain anonymous

One of the benefits of Apple’s App Store is that users don’t have to worry about doing anything illegal. With Apple’s “walled garden” policy, consumers are safe in the knowledge that every app is vetted by someone at Apple HQ. Apple’s review process is not perfect, however, and apps have occasionally managed to slip through, such as iOS apps that allowed you to share an Internet connection, or other features Apple doesn’t want you to access. (Apple wants telephone companies to be able to allow or prevent this feature.)

Once in a while, something really surprising manages to slip by Apple’s validators. I recently found three such apps on the App Store: Cartoon HD, which is free, and Anime HD and Anime World, which require a small in-app purchase. As their names suggest they are heavily focussed on animated programs. Once these apps are installed, you are able to either stream or download thousands of shows. Anime HD and Anime World only offer anime, but they have a vast amount to choose from; each boasts that you can access over 10,000 different shows.

Cartoon HD, however, also has some live-action movies. Most of these are super hero movies, such as the Superman and Batman films, but there are some exceptions, such as The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and the entire Harry Potter series. There is even some slapstick comedy thrown in for good measure in the form of Charlie Chaplin and Mr Bean (the former is in the public domain). All of this content is available for free.

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While this may seem like a great thing for users, it really isn’t. What these apps are doing is unwittingly turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals. All the content that is accessible is illegal and pirated, and it’s possible that users may face prosecution, depending on the laws in their countries.

Most of the anime I saw was from fan-subbing groups who operate in what they think is a grey area: subtitling shows from Japan before they are available in the western market. The movies aren’t legitimate either, and there is even a selection of Pixar movies; given Apple’s relationship with the company, this may be the most surprising part of the catalogue.

I’m not sure how these apps have managed to stay in the App Store for so long. Apparently Cartoon HD has been available since October. I’d have expected Apple’s reviewers to have spotted them long ago.

I think that these apps should be taken down from the App Store, which is meant to be a safe haven where users don’t have to worry whether they are doing something criminal. The whole reason that iOS has such a closed system is so that this type of app shouldn’t be available. Apple has gone to great lengths in the past to ensure that no pirated content is available on the App Store[1] , but these apps are blatantly flaunting the law.

It is far too easy to download this unwittingly. Even on Cydia – the App Store that can be used on jailbroken devices – it is much harder to get pirated content. Plus, if you jailbreak your device, you may void your warranty. It is a shame to think that Cydia is doing a better job at tackling piracy than Apple.

  1. Editor’s note: There actually is some pirated music on the iTunes Store. Every now and then, I come across an album that has been pirated. Most of these are albums that are in the public domain in Europe, but not in the US. Their presence in the US store means that Apple doesn’t check music uploads very carefully.  ↩