HTC threatens handset hackers with legal action for distributing ROMs

Leaks happen — especially in the mobile world. There are just too many people involved in the process of creating a mobile device to keep things under wraps. Take any given new phone’s OS installation package (known as its “ROM”), for example; when something is as easily copied and distributed as any other piece of software, it’s bound to find its way out eventually.

When these ROMs pop up on developer/hacker forums, it’s generally no big deal — in most cases, the manufacturer doesn’t notice or, if they do, don’t bother to do anything about it. Once someone makes an effort to gather up all these ROMs and distribute them from one unified outlet, however, things get hairy. Such is the case for the popular HTC ROM distribution site Shipped-ROMs, who allegedly just received a Cease & Desist order straight from the desk of HTC’s Legal Counsel.

According to HTC, Shipped-ROMs is stepping out of line by “illegal copying … HTC¡¦s original art work.” Do they use “art work” literally (as in the visuals)? Or are they ambiguously using the term to classify all of their code and other work as art? Who knows. One way or another, HTC is pissed.

If nothing else, you’ve got to praise HTC for their speed: the site, operated by the increasingly well-known hardware hacker Conflipper, is only about a month old. More impressive than HTC’s speed, however, is the site’s: in that month, they’ve managed to accumulate ROMs for just about every HTC handset imaginable, from antiques like the MDA Compact to the just-friggin’-lanched HTC Aria.

So, who does one root for? On one hand, these ROMs allow the hacking community to “cook” up their own custom installs for the hardcore crowd, often unlocking or adding in features that the manufacturer didn’t — and rarely, if ever, do these leaks result in anything malicious trickling down to the end user. On the other, these ROMs are jam-packed with HTC’s intellectual property, which they’ve got some duty to protect.

In the end, I’ll always be rooting for the little guy. My time with a number of HTC devices has been vastly improved by the efforts of the faceless geniuses in the hacking community. If HTC decides to make a misguided effort to stop the hacking community that satiates their poweruser’s thirsts, so be it — but this is the wrong way to go about it. C&D’ing one site won’t do a damn thing; these ROMs will be up on another site (or a torrent tracker, or any one of a bajillion other distribution methods) in the blink of an eye. It’s the classic Napster problem; in making a fuss about these ROMs, you’ve just alerted a bunch of people to their existence. Oh well.

The full text of the C&D can be read at Shipped-Roms. Conflipper says he’ll “do what he can” to keep the site online, but things aren’t looking too good.