You are reading an old article on an old site. It only still exists so the information is not lost. Comments and mosts links are hidden and disabled.

Zenithink: When OEMs turn to piracy

You might have heard of Zenithink, a fairly well-known Chinese manufacturer of budget Android tablets. Let me tell you a little story about their business practices.

Every commercial software developer is of course familiar with piracy, and we all go to various lengths to prevent it from happening. But this case is not about the home user who doesn't own (or cannot afford) a credit card pirating an app now and then, or how effective different DRM schemes may be. Instead this case is about a major manufacturer pre-loading software they have no license for on products they themselves sell.

Zenithink is such a manufacturer - profiteering by piracy. You might be familiar with a root app I have written some years ago called Chainfire3D. It was an app that employed proxy OpenGL ES drivers to improve compatibility of games and apps across different Android 2.x devices. It still mostly works on a number of 3.x and 4.0 devices, but it wasn't designed for it. Back on Android 2.x, it was a big deal.

Sometime last year, I was informed by a number of users that Chainfire3D appeared to be running on their Zenithink devices. Some even went so far as to congratulate me on my pay-day having finally arrived! As Zenithink never did come to me with a bag of money, I initially did not think too much of it. After all, users email me the strangest things that end up to be user error.

The firmwares

A short while after, I decided to investigate further. I got my hands on the firmware of a Zenithink device reported by a user to include Chainfire3D. It quickly became apparent that the Chainfire3D OpenGL ES proxy drivers were included in the firmware. I then started looking for the UI parts (the app as it is visible to end-users), but it was nowhere to be found. The firmware did not actually come with the configuration UI, instead it had a Zenithink customized configuration pre-loaded.

Alarmed by these findings, I decided to subject every Zenithink firmware out there to the same investigation. You will not be surprised to read that by far most firmware I could find contained the Chainfire3D drivers! Now, I obviously cannot know contract details between Zenithink and other businesses, but I would not be surprised if some other packages in their firmwares have not been included legally.

At least the following Zenithink Android devices have included Chainfire3D in one or more (usually) of their firmware revisions:

- ZT280-C97
- ZT280-C93
- ZT280-C91-UPG
- ZT280-C91
- ZT280-C71
- ZT280-E98
- ZT280-E72
- ZT280-Z102
- ZT280-Z101
- ZT180

The fact that so many different Zenithink firmwares include Chainfire3D portions, and various different versions at that, coupled with the way the pre-configuration is loaded, make it very unlikely any of this is accidental.

Lawyering up

After figuring out the above, I decided the time to consult a lawyer had come. So I found a lawfirm that had offices both locally and in China, and set up a meeting to see what the possibilities were.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that these days you can in fact sue Chinese companies for copyright infringement. That's the good news - China has IP laws now.

To get the ball rolling, Zenithink has been given official notice of the situation quite some time ago, to which they have declined to respond. What is telling however, is that every single firmware containing Chainfire3D suddenly disappeared from both their English and Chinese websites after that notice.

For obvious reasons I cannot currently comment on a lawsuit in China itself, but I can tell you some interesting things about lawsuits in China. Yes, China has IP laws, but you shouldn't expect too much of them.

For relatively minor cases, depending on what you can prove and to what extent, a maximum on the damages you can be rewarded exists, which will usually not be more than a few times the cost of the case (for a western company) - should you win.

You will also have to deposit a percentage of the claim you are seeking as court fees. If you're likely to be awarded X, it would be very unproductive if you claim losses of 10*X. Much to the amusement of the Chinese, western companies regularly walk into this trap.

But what is perhaps the biggest difference with litigation in the western world, is that in China you need to have and file (most of) the evidence before the actual case. You usually can't get evidence from the defendant during the case. As Chinese companies are also mostly private and do not need to deposit detailed reports about their revenue, profits and business process, it can be very difficult to find out information you may need in your case.

Rationally, one needs to consider whether the cost of litigation weighs up to the chance of actually winning, and the damages you are likely to be awarded. It seems those numbers are not as favorable in China is they may be in various western countries. Then again, you could also be willing to go "thermonuclear" on something, in which case rationality was probably nowhere to be found in the first place.


Zenithink devices are imported and sold across the world by various companies. If you have a Zenithink model mentioned above, I'm always happy to hear where you purchased it from. If you're a Zenithink importer who has carried the models mentioned above, feel free to contact me as well.


Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, I am just putting these things down how I understand them to be.

Please note this article is not the place or time for your questions about Chainfire3D on Jelly Bean. I have elaborated on that countless times. Keep this thread clear of it.