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Even a copyright wouldn’t help Flappy Bird creator get his hit’s name back thanks to Apple’s rules

Above: Apple rules prevent Dong Nguyen from reusing the Flappy Bird name.

Image Credit: Jeff Grubb/GamesBeat

Flappy Bird’s creator may want to bring the game back, but that might prove difficult.

Following a prolonged silence, developer Dong Nguyen spoke with Rolling Stone earlier this week about his arcadey megahit, Flappy Bird. For the first time, Nguyen revealed that he is “considering” bringing back the game that he deleted from the iOS and Android app markets. If he does, he says he’ll add a warning that says “please take a break” from the simple one-touch flapping action. But it might never get to that point because of a clause in Apple’s developer agreement.

“If you delete your app, you can’t restore it,” reads Apple’s developer documentation. “The SKU or app name can’t be reused in the same organization.”

Essentially, Apple’s TOS agreement indicates that Nguyen forfeited the right to the Flappy Bird name on iOS along with all of the ad revenue (which some estimates put as high as $50,000 a day). Even if he had full claim to the copyright, he couldn’t reuse Flappy Bird now that he has deleted it as per the agreement he made with Apple. Google Play does not have that same clause.

We’ve reached out to Apple to ask if it would uphold this rule in this case. We’ll update the story with any new information. Other developers we’ve spoken to confirm that Apple is pretty particular about unique names on the App Store, and the rules — unless changed — would likely keep Flappy Bird out of Nguyen’s hands.

On top of Apple’s policy, developer Mobile Media Partners, which is a developer that released Crashy Bird and the mobile marketing game Winsomething, locked up the “Flappy Bird” name on iOS for its own use two hours after Nguyen deleted the original. Mobile Media Partners says it has plans for the title, and it already has a trademark pending. If Nguyen had a trademark, he could sue the developer to stop it from releasing the game, but Apple would still block him from using it again himself.

“One of my engineers happened to be uploading one of our games on that Sunday [that Nguyen took it down],” Mobile Media Partners chief executive Chris Langbein told GamesBeat. “We put ‘Flappy Bird’ in — he just recently deleted it — and it was available. It wasn’t like we waited and jumped in as soon as he deleted it.”

With the name in hand, Mobile Media figured it should try to contact Nguyen to talk about its plans for Flappy Bird.

“We’ve tried to reach out to him,” said Langbein. “It’s hard to get a true story from him about what transpired. Everyone read different reasons as to why he pulled it.”

That’s true. Rumors suggested that Nguyen was pulling the game because he faced legal action from other publishers for reusing their art. Nguyen himself initially explained that he was deleting Flappy Bird because it brought him unwanted attention and stress. Once he pulled it, however, he started claiming that he didn’t want people to have access to it because it is too addictive.

Whatever the reason, Langbein believes that when Nguyen removed the game, he didn’t ever plan to resurrect it.

“By doing what he did, he showed that he had no intention of ever bringing the game back,” Langbein said. His reasoning is Nguyen could have simply changed the release date of Flappy Bird to some far off day in the future. This would remove it from the store without risking the loss of the name forever.

We’ve reached out to Nguyen to ascertain his motivations, and we’ll update this post if we can get a response.

Langbein said he was shocked to read Nguyen say he is considering bringing the game back. His company expects that he knows that’s impossible, but it still hasn’t spoken to him. We asked the Mobile Media CEO what he would do if Nguyen called him and asked for the name back,

“It’s Apple’s decision,” said Langbein. “He can’t have the name back even if it was available. But if he wanted to call me and wanted to discuss things, I would.”

For now, the Flappy Bird name is sitting attached to an unreleased game in the backend of the iOS App Store. Mobile Media will likely release a simple physics-based title under the name, but it won’t copy the original Flappy Bird’s art style or audio assets.

Meanwhile, if Nguyen does end up trying to bring his game back, he’ll need a new name on iOS, and he won’t have access to the 50 million people who already downloaded it on the platform.

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Apple designs and markets consumer electronics, computer software, and personal computers. The company's best-known hardware products include the Macintosh line of computers, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Apple software includes t... read more »

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