There was much sadness when Android developer, yongzh, had his Market account deleted and line of popular game emulators pulled from the market. Many people were troubled by this news, seeing it as Google bowing to pressure from gaming companies. We’ve done a little bit of digging, and it seems that this may be a much simpler case of one developer breaking the law.
After the initial shock of the *oid emulators getting pulled, and then downloading the apks from their temporary home at SlideME to install on any future phones I own, I realized something didn’t add up. There are still tens, if not hundreds of emulators and ROM related apps on the Market. There were rumors swirling about that yongzh may have been banned, not because he was making emulators, but because he was violating open source licenses.
Lets start with some background on emulators. Emulators are a very cloudy subject legally. Trying to find information on the internet on the legality of emulators is actually quite difficult with conflicting reports and vaguely worded statements abounding. This is made that much worse when there are different laws for an emulator itself, and the ROM game images. We can’t condone or condemn emulators, but to the best of my knowledge, there is nothing explicitly illegal about an emulator, as it is usually the ROM itself which is considered to be the intelectual property of the company.
So yongzh’s apps were pulled, and as far as we can tell weren’t illegal, but other emulators remain in the Market. This is what started our looking into a rumor that yongzh was removed from the Market for violating open source licenses. Reports have popped up that snesoid, the Super Nintendo emulator app, was simply a java wrapper for the open source snes9x emulator.
We contacted the founder of snes9x and found out some details. The snes9x project was started in the 90s and is published under a license, which allows it to be copied and used so long as it is not for commercial purposes. While there was discussion on the snes9x forums about reporting yongzh, or even pursuing legal action back in February, we confirmed with the project founder, that he did not personally pursue yongzh.
So where does this leave us? What we know for sure at this point is that yongzh’s emulators were pulled from the market, yet apps which could not be any more legal than his in regards to emulator and ROM laws remain. Google’s response to me asking for details was generic as expected:
As a matter of policy, we don’t provide comment on individual apps or developers. I can confirm, though, that the apps that were removed were in violation of Android Market policies.
This does mean however, that Google had some official reason to remove the apps, or at least yongzh’s account. If this was removal due to infringing video game manufacturer’s intelectual property, it just would have made more sense that the companies claiming IP violation would have spent the time to apply it to other emulators. It seems most likely that either someone took it into their own hands to report yongzh’s use of the open source code, or Google discovered it themselves. Should anymore information come to light we will be sure to update you. In the meantime, continue to love Android and don’t panic just yet that the end of “Openness” is upon us.