Opinion: Google Should Make HTC Stop Piracy In Its Theme Store Before Releasing An HTC Nexus

HTC Nexus incoming?

If you’ve been following the latest Nexus spoilers rumors, you’re no doubt aware that 2016 will probably bring at least one HTC Nexus, more likely two. You might also know that the HTC 10 has been turning heads, a welcome and long-overdue design refresh with some compelling features that might just make it more (cough cough) desire-worthy than the LG G5 and even the Galaxy S7. You might even be aware of yet another matter concerning the embattled Taiwanese company: their Theme Store has proven to be den of thieves by allowing its users to upload icons and other theme elements extracted from paid apps from Google’s Play Store. In fact, Android Central called out HTC mere days ago for continuing to allow such blatant piracy.

However unintended it may be, HTC's Theme Store has become a haven for people who rip off content from Google Play apps, especially icon packs.

However unintended it may be, HTC’s Theme Store has become a haven for people who rip off content from Google Play apps, especially icon packs.

HTC’s Theme Store was meant to provide phones running Sense 7 or later with options to customize their homescreens, icons and even their entire system UIs. However, since HTC’s proprietary store does not include content from Google’s Play Store, many users have felt compelled to “fill” that void by extracting graphics from paid apps published in the latter. They then repackage the graphics and upload them so Sense 7 users can download others’ paid works for free. While HTC has responded to past complaints by the original developers, they’ve always used the boilerplate ‘our legal team is looking into it’ reply. Meanwhile, the pirated content remains (or if it’s taken down, it often reappears days or even just hours later).

It may be easy to write off the issue as “well it doesn’t have anything to do with them making a Nexus phone” or “it’s a developer thing – it has nothing to do with me – I’m just an average HTC phone user”. Perhaps you don’t believe HTC is responsible for the content that users submit to their Theme Store. When you also consider the fact that a Nexus phone (even one manufactured by HTC) won’t be using content from HTC’s Theme Store, it becomes even easier to just dismiss the issue. Such an outlook is tragically shortsighted, though, since it affects developers who provide you with more and more options to customize your phone’s homescreen and system UI.

When more developers are discouraged from publishing their themes to the Play Store because they’ll only be ripped off and posted to HTC’s Theme Store, your options for customizing your phone become more limited. Whether you get an HTC 10, already own a One M7/M8/M9, get a 2016 HTC Nexus or basically any other phone for which you’ll want to download icon packs or system themes to customize, you will be affected. In fact, Google themselves are affected because their Play Store loses revenue because of HTC’s lax policy of intellectual property protection.

Given HTC’s track record of failing to stamp out rampant piracy in its Theme Store, it appears that the only real hope for developers is for HTC and Google to make some kind of agreement to allow apps from the latter’s Play Store to be included. It shouldn’t be difficult to overcome any technical hurdles that might stand in the way (for icon packs all HTC would have to do is make its launcher support icon packs from Google Play). Nevertheless, HTC seems to have little (if any) incentive to make such a change.

Perhaps at least one of the rumored HTC Nexus phones will look like the HTC 10, which would be excellent, but not if they continue to allow rampant piracy in their proprietary Theme Store.

Perhaps at least one of the rumored HTC Nexus phones will look like the HTC 10, which would be excellent, but not if they continue to allow rampant piracy in their proprietary Theme Store.

Of course, if Google were to pressure their alleged Nexus partner to allow Play Store content into its Sense-centric theme repository, HTC would then have a strong incentive to take real action against those who have no respect for the work of others. After all, Google’s name would also be linked to an HTC Nexus, and they’re supposed to take a dim view of people pirating Play Store content.

Then again, all this talk about Google intervening could all just be wishful thinking on my part.

Given that HTC has failed to stop their Theme Store contributors from ripping off paid apps from the Play Store, would you still get a 2016 Nexus phone if it's made by them?

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