Vinyet, a mobile application that helps users make better social videos which can then be shared to services like Twitter’s Vine, has disappeared from the iTunes App Store today, following a takedown request from Twitter. According to Vinyet’s creator, Jason Lawrence, his company, Arqball, also the makers of other photography apps like FocusTwist and Arqspin, has now removed the Vinyet app from iTunes in order to comply with the request. However, he was unsure if there was actually a legal basis that could force his company to do so.
Lawrence first heard of the issue via an email from Apple, which relayed a complaint from a Twitter Brand Protection Officer. He says that Twitter was claiming the Vinyet app was in violation of “Twitter’s intellectual property rights and/or trademark rights.” But, he adds, “it was never entirely clear which rights were in violation from our discussions with them…Since we are not using any of Vine’s code to actually post to Vine, we are not violating any copyrights,” Lawrence tells us.
“We have also studied their Terms of Service, and have not found any specific way we violate it,” he says. “We asked Twitter directly what ‘terms of service’ we violated, and they have not answered.”
The problem may stem from the fact that Vinyet’s app uses so-called “private APIs” – those that exist and are accessible by developers, but remain undocumented.
Though Lawrence never communicated with Twitter before launching Vinyet originally, he had, until recently, believed that the use of the private APIs would be protected, citing a couple of key legal decisions like Oracle v. Google, which established that APIs could not be copyrighted, and Sega v. Accolade, which protected the process of reverse engineering. (To be clear, these are Lawrence’s thoughts, not a lawyer’s expert analysis, and neither he nor TechCrunch is offering a legal opinion here. These were assumptions he made.)
The Vine-posting functionality was actually a small portion of the Vinyet app, which was mostly designed to offer advanced video editing tools. And unlike other APIs for posting video (e.g. to YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.), Vine didn’t require any cryptographic keys to make the post.
Lawrence says the only risk he thought he was taking on was if Vine ever changed its system dramatically in a way that would make the video upload feature fail. But this, he notes, could have been fixed with an app update.
After speaking with Lawrence, TechCrunch asked around a half-dozen other third-party Vine application makers if they had also received a similar takedown notice, in an effort to determine if Vinyet was a part of a larger crackdown on Twitter’s part. But none of the others reported receiving a request from Twitter, though many were concerned to hear that such a thing was now occurring.
However, those other companies may not be in violation of Twitter’s terms or copyright, as they tend to do other things, like offering ways to view Vine videos, not create videos and upload to Vine, or participate in Vine directly.
Going forward, Lawrence says that Vinyet is being re-edited to remove the Vine upload functionality and then it will return the App Store. The company had 4,000 daily active users at the time of its shutdown.
— JB (@maybejames) January 6, 2014
Twitter’s Vine is not the only social app squelching the efforts of third-parties boosting their own applications by tying themselves to a larger brand. Facebook-owned Instagram also went after third-party developers using “insta” and “gram” in their brand names, and Vine’s owner Twitter has historically made things difficult for some in its developer community, by changing the rules as the company grew, sending a strong message to developers that they should not try to compete with Twitter on clients. The same, apparently, holds true for Vine, too.
We’ve reached out to Twitter for a comment, and will update with a response, if provided.
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