I’ve mentioned the Android reading app Moon+ Reader once or twice (it’s bundled into the hacked firmware for the Sony Reader T1 and T2). It’s a very popular app with excellent file management features, ebook formatting options, and support for downloading ebooks from website.
It’s one of the more popular reading apps available for Android, second only to Aldiko in terms of downloads – or at least it was before the app was removed from Google Play.
It looks like the Russian ebook distributor LitRes.ru has been watching the Samsung-Apple patent fight and taken a lesson to heart: If you can’t find a legitimate way to compete, invent a rules violation and get some authority to throw the book at your competition. That’s what has happened to Moon+ Reader this weekend. According to the developer’s blog, this reading app has been removed from Google Play because of a piracy complaint.
LitRes has just discovered that Moon+ Reader, an app that has been available for a couple years now, lets you download ebooks from websites. And *gasp* that includes pirate sites.
Like any number of other ebook apps (including Stanza,Mantano, and Aldiko), Moon+ Reader supports OPDS. This is an RSS-like protocol that enables websites to offer ebook downloads inside compatible reading apps. While at first glance it looks like a download protocol, it would be better to describe it as a catalog protocol because it also includes important metadata like title, author, file format type, and description.
Far from being a tool of pirates, OPDS is used by many legitimate ebookstores and download sites. Project Gutenberg, Baen Books, Internet Archive, and Feedbooks all use OPDS to offer ebook downloads, and the app developer Bluefire uses it to connect their reading apps for iOS and Android with partner ebookstores. There’s even a trick where you can set up your own library of legally purchased ebooks in your Dropbox account and create an OPDS catalog for it.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking that this could be an honest mistake. Well, no. From what I can tell, this is not the first time that LatRes tried this particular trick.
The developers of a Russian text-to-speech ebook app Chitatel reported late last month that their app had been removed from iTunes for much the same reason (it’s back now). According to their announcement, LitRes accused them of piracy because it was possible for users to use the Chitatel app to download pirated content. Newsflash for Litres: You can also download pirated content with a web browser.
LitRes has a number of apps in Google Play, including both an audiobook app as well as an ebook app. Aside from the non-Russian reading app, none of the apps have all that many downloads. But one thing they do have are a lot of 1-star reviews. When this news broke on Reddit, one redditor proposed a campaign of retaliatory 1-star reviews. I’d say it’s having an effect.
As for Moon+ Reader, the developer has filed a counter notice with Google. The app is bound to be returned to Google Play, though it might take up to a month for Google to get around to it.
Until then you can download the free version of the app from the developer’s website. The paid version of the app requires a $5 registration fee which can be paid via Paypal.
Update: LitRes has responded to the story. Assuming that Google Translate did its job, they claim that both apps mentioned above “include in their applications pre-installed links to pirated library as the main source for books”. I call BS on this statement; the main sources of Moon+ Reader are sites like PG, Smashwords, Feedbooks, etc – none of which are pirate sites.
And while it is possible that Moon+ Reader could have offered a link to a pirate library via a user submitted OPDS catalog, that catalog (as well as the link to it) is not in the app so removing the app from Google Play will not remove the pirated content.
I think it far more likely that LitRes filed a piracy complaint in order to harm the competition, not fight piracy. Had that been their goal they would have communicated with the developers first.
Second update: One reader is reporting that his version of the app has an extra download site in the list that isn’t showing up in the 3 versions of the app I downloaded. He reports that TUeBL is listed alongside Smashwords, PG, and the rest. That is (according to some) a pirate site, though the operators dispute this. But does it have ebooks which LitRes cam file valid DMCA notices? I don’t know.