Happy Friday, and happy one more entry in the longrunning Epic-Apple feud, as today, the judge in the Epic v. Apple lawsuit, Yvonne Gonzalez-Rogers, issued her ruling in the anti-monopoly case.
Readers will recall that Epic’s suit against Apple began in 2020 when Epic used Fortnite as a pawn in its pre-planned campaign to force platforms like Apple and Google to allow it to bypass their profitable protectionist policies that blocked third-party direct payments. The result was Fortnite banned from the platforms and an anti-monopoly lawsuit and countersuit that annoyed pretty much everyone for the last year.
In her judgment, Gonzalez-Rogers ruled in Apple’s favor on nine of 10 counts but essentially handed Epic Games the primary prize it wanted, saying that while she could not “conclude that Apple is a monopolist” under current law based on Epic’s arguments, she did agree that the company has been “engaging in anti-competitive conduct” under California competition law and “incipient antitrust violations” in defiance of “anti-steering provisions”; she further issued a permanent injunction stopping Apple from blocking third-party purchase mechanisms starting in December.
“[Apple is] permanently restrained and enjoined from prohibiting developers from including in their apps and their metadata buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms, in addition to In-App Purchasing and (ii) communicating with customers through points of contact obtained voluntarily from customers through account registration within the app.”[…]
“While Apple’s conduct does not fall within the confines of traditional antitrust law, the conduct falls within the purview of an incipient antitrust violation with particular anticompetitive practices which have not been justified. Apple contractually enforces silence, in the form of anti-steering provisions, and gains a competitive advantage. Moreover, it hides information for consumer choice which is not easily remedied with money damages.”
For reference, here were the initial counts and the specific requests from Epic Games in the original lawsuit. Counts 1 through 6 were all specific to complaints under the Sherman Act, while counts 7 through 10 focused on California law. It was the count 10 that turned in Epic’s favor. The original suit specifically asked for an injunction against Apple’s anti-competitive conduct.
Apple’s response to the ruling rather disingenuously refers only to the antitrust part. Earlier today, Apple had said it wouldn’t be allowing Epic back on the platform in response to new legislation in South Korea that will similarly require platforms like Apple and Google to permit alternative IAP systems, at least until Epic agrees to “play by the same rules as everyone else.” Gonzalez-Rogers threw out Apple’s original countersuits, but she did command Epic to pay the specific backfees it owed Apple over its contract breach.
“Today’s ruling isn’t a win for developers or for consumers. Epic is fighting for fair competition among in-app payment methods and app stores for a billion consumers,” Epic’s Tim Sweeney tweeted. “Fortnite will return to the iOS App Store when and where Epic can offer in-app payment in fair competition with Apple in-app payment, passing along the savings to consumers.”
The whole ruling is almost 200 pages, so if you have nothing better to do with your afternoon, have fun reading it. Unfortunately, this won’t be the last time we cover the story, as the Epic v. Google suit has yet to begin, and presumably, the appeals will go on half of forever.