Mar 14, 2024 3 min read

Epic returns to court in California over Apple's "blatant violation" of App Store injunction

The Epic Games v Apple legal battle in the US courts continues. Apple changed its App Store rules on the back of an earlier judgement in that battle. But in a new legal filing, Epic says the rule changes are no good - in fact, they are a "blatant violation" of the judgement

Epic returns to court in California over Apple's "blatant violation" of App Store injunction

Fortnite owner Epic Games has filed new legal papers with the courts in California over Apple's plans to comply with an earlier ruling that forced a change to its App Store rule regarding the sign-posting of alternative payment options, aka the anti-steering provision. The gaming company argues that Apple's plan is a "blatant violation" of the court's order and will "nullify" what the court sought to achieve. 

"Compliance with the injunction should have been simple", Epic's filing states. "All Apple needed to do was to remove the illegal anti-steering language from its App Store Review Guidelines so that developers could provide truthful information to users and enable them to act on it. But Apple chose a markedly different path". 

The latest bust-up between Epic and Apple in the Californian courts comes as the now-in-force Digital Market Acts in the European Union starts to have an impact on Apple's rules within the EU, an impact that has already benefited Epic. The gaming firm will be following developments in Europe closely, as the changes Apple makes in the EU to comply with the new regulations may demonstrate that what the tech giant has previously said is not possible is, in fact, possible. 

Epic accused Apple of violating US competition law with its App Store rules around in-app payments. In the main, those arguments failed in court. 

However, the judge did conclude that the anti-steering provision - which stops app developers from sign-posting payment options outside their iOS apps where they don't have to pay Apple a commission - was in breach of Californian law. That decision was upheld on appeal and the US Supreme Court declined to hear the case. 

Apple subsequently announced it was amending its rules in the US to comply with the judgement. However, while app developers will be able to sign-post alternative payment options under the revised rules, Apple will still charge a commission on any payments that result from users linking through from an iOS app. So much so, app developers argue that they will be no better off under the new rules. 

Noting that Apple filed a 'notice of compliance' with the courts in January after announcing the change to its App Store rules, Epic's legal filing muses that "Apple’s notice is one of non-compliance". It goes on, "Apple replaced its blanket prohibition on steering with an elaborate new scheme that is guaranteed to continue extracting excessive commissions from developers and prevent developers from communicating lower prices on other platforms". 

"Apple is in blatant violation of this court’s injunction", Epic adds. "Its new App Store policies continue to impose prohibitions on developers that this court found unlawful and enjoined. Moreover, Apple’s new policies introduce new restrictions and burdens that frustrate and effectively nullify the relief the court ordered".

Concluding, the legal filing says, "Epic requests the court enter an order holding Apple in contempt for violating the court’s injunction; requiring Apple to promptly bring its policies into compliance with the injunction; and requiring Apple to remove all anti-steering provisions". 

In Europe earlier this week Apple back-tracked on a decision to terminate Epic's developer account after the intervention of EU regulators. As a result, Epic will now be able to restore the Fortnite app and launch an Epic Games Store on iOS devices in Europe. Meanwhile, in order to comply with the DMA, Apple also announced revised App Store rules within the EU which will allow the distribution of apps directly from a developer’s website. 

These changes impact a wide range of app developers, including Spotify, the other high profile critic of Apple's rules. Epic, Spotify and other app developers will continue to put pressure on EU regulators to enforce the DMA in a way that is most beneficial to them. And where Apple makes decent concessions, the app developers will be looking for ways to force those changes into other jurisdictions, whether via litigation or by lobbying regulators.

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