Google Android statue dressed as a pirate for Halloween 2009

Watch out, pirates sailing the mobile seas, law enforcement is paying attention to more than just illegal downloads of music and movies. The Department of Justice took down three websites yesterday that were illegally selling copyrighted Android applications.

The seized websites are,, and, all of which now have a homepage that shows the DOJ seal and a notice explaining the penalties for copyright infringement. This includes up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and forfeiture and restitution for first offenders. It’s an important step for the United States’ effort against copyright infringement because while software — along with entertainment — has long been protected under U.S. law, mobile apps are now being seriously protected as well.

According to the DOJ’s official statement, the FBI downloaded thousands of these apps “without permission from the software developers” while gathering evidence. The FBI also enlisted the help of international law enforcement partners — since many of the servers were overseas — and had them download the apps as well.

“Criminal copyright laws apply to apps for cellphones and tablets, just as they do to other software, music, and writings,” said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates in a statement, “We will continue to seize and shut down websites that market pirated apps, and to pursue those responsible for criminal charges if appropriate.”

Unlike Apple, which requires that all apps downloaded to the iPhone and iPad go through its App Store (and its security measures) first, Google is not as tight on the rules. Instead, it lets Android users download apps from anywhere, including third-party marketplaces such as GetJar, which is how pirates can profit from selling illegally acquired apps.

Overall, the DOJ used nine search warrants in the U.S. and worked with attorneys in Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, Michigan, Indiana, Rhode Island, and Texas.

hat tip Forbes; Android pirate image via ToastyKen/Flickr