Apple Removes Game Boy Emulator iGBA From App Store Due to Spam and Copyright Violations

Apple today said it removed Game Boy emulator iGBA from the App Store for violating the company's App Review Guidelines related to spam (section 4.3) and copyright (section 5.2), but it did not provide any specific details.

iGBA Feature
iGBA was a copycat version of developer Riley Testut's open-source GBA4iOS app. The emulator rose to the top of the App Store charts following its release this weekend, but some people complained that the app was a blatant ripoff overlaid with ads.

"So apparently Apple approved a knock-off of GBA4iOS," said Testut, in a Threads post on Saturday. "I did not give anyone permission to do this, yet it's now sitting at the top of the charts (despite being filled with ads + tracking)." He quipped that he was "so glad App Review exists to protect consumers from scams and rip-offs like this."

An excerpt from section 5.2 of the App Review Guidelines, related to intellectual property:

Make sure your app only includes content that you created or that you have a license to use. Your app may be removed if you've stepped over the line and used content without permission. Of course, this also means someone else's app may be removed if they've "borrowed" from your work.

It is unclear if Apple removed iGBA because it felt the app ripped off GBA4iOS, or for other reasons. We have asked Apple for clarification about the app's removal, and we will update this article if we receive any additional information.

Notably, iGBA allows iPhone users to load any Game Boy game ROMs downloaded from the web, but the app's removal makes it unclear if Apple will allow ROM-loading apps on the App Store. On its customer support website in the U.S., Nintendo says downloading pirated copies of its games is illegal. It is unclear if Nintendo contacted Apple.

iGBA appeared in the App Store just over a week after Apple allowed "retro game console emulators" on the App Store, but the guidelines are somewhat vague, so hopefully Apple will clarify exactly what is and is not permitted. iGBA can continue to be used by anyone who installed it on their iPhone before it was removed from the App Store.

Testut has not said whether he will make his newer Nintendo game emulator Delta available on the App Store, should it be permitted, but he does plan to distribute it through his alternative app marketplace AltStore on iPhones in the EU.

Update: Apple says that while iGBA's functionality was approved, it removed the app from the App Store after learning that it was a knockoff app that copied another developer's submission, which presumably refers to GBA4iOS.

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Top Rated Comments

Chaos215bar2 Avatar
10 weeks ago

Emulators are kinda sketchy to begin with on copyright infringement.
Emulators for older systems like the Game Boy absolutely aren’t, much as Nintendo might like you to think otherwise. So long as you source the games legally, of course, but that also really shouldn’t be Apple’s concern here so long as copyrighted ROMs aren’t being distributed along side the app.

Emulators for newer systems do get a bit tricky since the games are usually encrypted, and of course the DMCA makes circumvention of encryption in itself a crime. (Even if everything else you’re doing is perfectly legal otherwise. Which of course is why it’s a popular strategy these days for companies to rely on the DMCA to criminalize things like self repair of products you own.)
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
eqquito Avatar
10 weeks ago
Nintendo should bring their official emulators on the Nintendo Switch to the iOS/iPad/MacOS.
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
zapmymac Avatar
10 weeks ago
This incident does not bode well for Apple's "we closely examine all app submissions, trust us." mantra #forshame
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Ctrlos Avatar
10 weeks ago
As for legality, emulators are not illegal so long as they don’t include original encryption methods and BIOS files as these are proprietary software. There is a reason the GBA and PSP tend to be the most emulated consoles!

Copyright law is massively outdated when it comes to software. If you clone a digital file the original is still with the owner so you haven’t actually ‘stolen’ any property, merely prevented a sale which are not the same thing in the world of digital goods. This gets murkier still with abandonware, software that is no longer available for purchase from the original vendor. How can you prevent the sale of something that isn’t on sale to begin with? In other words if a company like Nintendo no longer provides a storefront for a title then playing it with an emulator isn’t piracy because nobody has lost any property or any money.

For the record playing ROMs of titles that are still available for sale is massively illegal. Games developers should always be compensated for their work where possible.

Copyright law for software should be changed to give the end user fair use rights when it comes to abandonware. This helps with game preservation, lets public archives put titles on show and lets newer generations of people enjoy older titles.

Of course if Nintendo released an official GBA emulator for iOS with an internal catalogue available for purchase or via sub they can shut up and take my money.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
delsoul Avatar
10 weeks ago
Unless things have changed, the rule of thumb is emulators are not illegal if you already own the game. That was the legal and commonly accepted manner.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Apple$ Avatar
10 weeks ago
Hopefully there will be more emulator apps in the App Store, this was a great taste of what's coming up!
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)