A judge on Friday ruled in the case between “Fortnite” developer Epic Games and Apple, saying that Apple can no longer force developers to use its own payment system within their apps.
It’s a ruling that could have seismic impact on the tech industry and the economics of a $100 billion online market. Apple’s practice is to collect up to 30% of sales commission on some app sales, and this move would allow developers to avoid that.
Apple is now “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 communicating with customers through points of contact obtained voluntarily from customers through account registration within the app,” the ruling states.
But the ruling was mixed, as the judge also ruled as part of a countersuit that Epic must pay Apple $3.6 million in revenue that was withheld from the tech giant, further ruling that Apple is not a monopoly as the developer had claimed.
The judge also ruled that Epic breached its contract when the company last year looked to circumvent Apple’s payment system by selling “Fortnite” digital currency directly to fans; Apple responded to that move by pulling “Fornite” from its App Store altogether.
The ruling will take effect in 90 days. Apple could seek to block the order before then.
“Today the Court has affirmed what we’ve known all along: the App Store is not in violation of antitrust law,” a representative for Apple said via The New York Times. “Apple faces rigorous competition in every segment in which we do business, and we believe customers and developers choose us because our products and services are the best in the world. We remain committed to ensuring the App Store is a safe and trusted marketplace.”
Epic Games CEO and founder Tim Sweeney responded through a tweet to Apple’s statement, saying that “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.”
“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,” Sweeney said. “Thanks to everyone who put so much time and effort into the battle over fair competition on digital platforms, and thanks especially to the court for managing a very complex case on a speedy timeline. We will fight on.”
An activist group called Fight for the Future in a statement slammed the decision to not rule Apple a monopoly and said that the ruling doesn’t go far enough.
As long as Apple maintains an authoritarian stranglehold over what software millions of people can and can’t run on their phones, the company will be actively helping repressive governments undermine human rights and censor apps used by journalists, dissidents, and vulnerable communities,” director Evan Greer said in part in a statement. “If Apple actually has any values, they should let users install and run whatever software they want on the devices they own, the same way they do on Mac laptops. If Apple chooses profit and control over user safety and security, and the courts won’t address the harms of Apple’s monopolistic practices, then lawmakers should.”
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.