The great thing about open source software is that anybody can use it. The not-so-great thing about open source software… is that anybody can use it. Such was the case with two N64 emulators battling it out on the Google Play Store. According to a massive Reddit thread, the original game emulator was called “Mupen64Plus Android Edition”, developed by Paul Lamb and based off of the open-source emulator Mupen64Plus. Under the General Public License, anyone can use the Mupen code for any project they like (including charging for it) as long as proper attribution is given. Paul put up his app on the Google Play Store, and for a while, all was right with the world.
Until a little app called “N64 Player” came along. According to the thread, this app misappropriated his open-source code without attribution, slapped some ads over it and sold it in the Google Play Store as an original app (citing the GPL code from the original Mupen project). Then the unscrupulous developer filed a copyright claim against Mupen64Plus AE, claiming that Paul Lamb had in fact stolen the original code – which was freely available under a GPL open source license. And Google, apparently without checking to see if the claim was valid, booted Paul’s app off the Play Store instead. The developer, one “Brad Geng”, appears to have been trying to knock out his competition on the Google Play Store.
There’s more going on here than the antics of a scumbag – Google’s copyright reporting system has failed on several levels. One, there was apparently no research made on the copycat’s claims, and Mupen64Plus AE was given the boot without warning. Two, claiming actual copyright infringement on an open-source project is notoriously difficult – if both developers cited the original Mupen emulator code, any claims made by either would essentially become a he said-she said argument, something that probably couldn’t be solved by whoever’s policing the Google Play Store. Third, one would hope that an administrator of the Google Play Store would at least have a passing knowledge of the way that open source software works, though that appears to be too much to hope for in this case.
At this point, both apps have disappeared, likely following reports on N64 Player made by hundreds of angry open-source advocates. You can still find Paul Lamb’s Mupen64Plus AE here, and we won’t link to the other app. Hopefully the real McCoy will be restored to the Google Play Store soon – and the Big G will be a little more wary when it comes to quick-draw copyright claims.