The leader of a group that distributed more than one million pirated Android apps pleaded guilty in a case brought by the US Department of Justice (DoJ).

Nicholas Narbone, head of Appbucket, entered a guilty plea for his role in distributing counterfeit apps with a retail value of more than $700,000. Thomas Dye pleaded guilty to the same charge (conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement) on 10 March.

This is the first prosecution for distribution of counterfeit apps in the US.

“These men trampled on the intellectual property rights of others when they and other members of the Appbucket group distributed more than one million copies of pirated apps,” said acting assistant attorney general David O’Neil.

O’Neil added that the convictions show a “determination to prosecute those who undermine the innovations of others in new technologies”.

Information filed on 24 January said members of Appbucket had conspired to produce and distribute copies of copyrighted Android mobile apps through the organisation’s app store without permission from copyright owners.

The FBI conducted the subsequent investigation.

In November last year, antivirus provider Bitdefender found that apps copied from genuine titles accounted for 1.2 per cent of a sample of 420,646 titles in Google Play.

Catalin Cosoi, Bitdefender chief security strategist, said these counterfeit products should not be mistaken for different versions of an genuine app: “Here, it’s about a publisher who takes an application, reverse-engineers its code, adds aggressive advertising SDKs or other beacons, then repackages and distributes it as his own.”

Copying apps in this way is not allowed by Google Play and developer accounts demonstrating this kind of activity are terminated if they are detected.