It’s a little hard to classify Google politically. While they’re generous, often liberal, in certain stances and political movements, they also push for major corporate freedom and tout the word “open” as the core of their model. Certainly, many Google elements are just as open as they claim to be – such as the Chromium project or select Google APIs – but Google’s most advertised “open” project, the Android OS, is receiving criticism for recent actions.
More specifically, Google banned two developers and dropped all their apps from the Android Market. The two developers were among the best ranked and rated, and their apps were secure and functional, but they also might have been illegal. All the software in question falls under the category of “emulator,” apps that allow users to play games from other major consoles (like the Nintendo, Game Boy, or PlayStation). The licensing dilemma this presents should be apparent, but the legal issue is actually more complex.
In 1999, Sony took the first major emulation case to court. The case lasted over a year. The emulation company, Connectix, stood by the old defense: Emulation itself is legitimate, even if people then abuse the emulators to play games for which they don’t own a license. The case was decided in favor of Connectix, but that hasn’t stopped Sony, Nintendo, and other gaming groups from pursuing similar cases since. The court rulings have been mixed.
Sony and Nintendo have also actively taken down apps that they feel violate intellectual property, which can include emulators such as these. A Nintendo representative, when asked about the recent removal discussed here, stated that Nintendo wasn’t involved in this case but had worked with Google in removing emulation software in the past. So is this a case of legal licensing, or is it – as some describe – “a Big Brother move” from Google?