App reskinning is still a relatively new thing that appeals to people from all walks of life. Young or old, experienced or inexperienced, app reskinning has made it possible for people of all backgrounds to get a foot in the door of the mobile app industry.
Many come from a web development and marketing background where most have a keen understanding of copyright law. Yet, many others do not come from such a background and may be oblivious to what constitutes intellectual property theft.
While it may seem obvious to many of us, it essentially boils down to this: don’t rip off the work of other artists and developers without consent or attribution.
Not only is this a matter of legality, but also one of respect. Unfortunately, this is a lesson some new appreneurs learn the hard way.
A few weeks ago we interviewed Michal Kacmar, the guy behind a mobile game called Flappy Bee that rose all the way to the Top 3 of the iOS free apps charts. At the time, he mentioned he had reskinned the app, but did not say how the art assets were made. It turns out that the art assets were stolen from another mobile game called Bee Leader developed by Flightless. Not cool.
Here are some steps you should take to ensure that you don’t make the same mistake and always comply with intellectual property laws:
#1: If Reskinning, Legally Purchase the Mobile App Source Code or Template
Make sure that any source code you get for your app is purchased from a reputable vendor. Websites such as Chupamobile, BinPress and other app source code marketplaces have measures in place to make sure that vendors own the rights to the code they put up for sale.
Always read the licensing agreement! If you buy a single license, that means you can only make one app using the source code. To make more you must purchase the extended license.
Example License Agreements from BinPress Flappy Bird Template
#2: When Outsourcing, Check to See if Art Assets Are Unique
If you are outsourcing the production of art assets, it is important to verify that the assets are indeed unique. Freelancers found on sites such as oDesk or Elance are generally trustworthy, especially ones with verified good reviews, but you must always ensure that what you’re getting is actually original artwork. After all, if someone comes after you for copyright infringement, it’s your skin, not theirs.
You can easily check to see if the artwork was snagged from another source by doing a quick Google Image search. Here’s how:
- Go to Google Image Search
- Click on the picture icon to “search by image”
- Choose “Upload an Image” option and choose file
- Upload the file and… TADA! Google will return all the images and websites that match the image file you uploaded.
#3: When Using Stock Art Assets or Sounds, Check for Intellectual Property Rights
Using stock art, photos and sounds can drastically reduce development time, but like outsourced art, you must be aware of the usage rights of the content. If you purchase an art asset from a site like graphicriver, check the license agreement just like you would when buying code.
Say, for example, I come across this sweet graphic of a hipster giraffe and want to include it in an upcoming app. Can I?
The regular license states that I could only use this image for one product which an end user is not charged for. So yes, I could use this in a single free app. If I wanted to use this graphic in more than one app or use it within a paid app I would need to purchase the extended license for $60.
Be careful when using a free image you find on the web. Just as you should read the licensing agreement of a paid art asset, you must also know what license a free image falls under. Check to see if it is public domain, creative commons, etc. If the artwork is under a creative commons license, you must attribute the author! (See Here)
Using Google, you can filter an image search by the usage rights. See below:
(Other sites such as Flickr also allow users to filter by usage rights)
#4: When in Doubt, Leave it Out!
Always err on the side of caution. If you are unsure whether an art asset can be used for your app, just leave it out. Move on and find another piece of artwork that you know you can use instead, even if it isn’t as high quality. Better yet, learn to make your own art assets!
Many non-artists are hesitant to create their own artwork for their apps and games, but the truth is some of the most popular apps contain art that many would consider sub-par. You don’t need to be Da Vinci when Dong will do just fine!
In conclusion, respect fellow mobile app developers and artists. No one likes to get ripped off. It sucks. Do your best to ensure that all the assets you use within your apps (reskinned or made from scratch) are unique or properly attributed and compensated. If you don’t, not only will you find yourself in potential legal trouble, but you will also burn a lot of bridges within the supportive community of indie app developers and entrepreneurs.
Do you have any more tips or advice on copyright law and intellectual property rights for mobile apps? Let us know in the comments!