A federal appeals court ruled in April that Apple’s strict control of its App Store does not constitute a monopoly, holding up a 2021 lower court ruling in a suit brought by Epic Games.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled 2 to 1 that Apple was not in violation of federal antitrust law. Epic, maker of the game Fortnite, and other app developers have maintained that Apple squelched competition and impinged upon their profits.
“There is a lively and important debate about the role played in our economy and democracy by online transaction platforms with market power,” the judges wrote in a 91-page decision. “Our job as a federal Court of Appeals, however, is not to resolve that debate — nor could we even attempt to do so.”
However, on one of the 10 claims, the judges agreed with a lower court’s ruling that Apple had violated California’s Unfair Competition Law by requiring customers to use only the App Store for payment and charging a 30% fee in the process. If the decision stands, app developers that sell subscriptions or digital services on an iPhone app would be able to direct their customers to websites other than the App Store to make their payments. Apple may appeal that decision, according to The New York Times.
“Fortunately, the court’s positive decision rejecting Apple’s anti-steering provisions frees iOS developers to send consumers to the web to do business with them directly there,” Epic’s Chief Executive Tim Sweeney wrote on Twitter. “We’re working on next steps.”
Epic brought the suit in 2020 after Apple (and Google) removed Fortnite from the app stores. Epic’s decision to offer its customers a discount when they used its payment system rather than Apple’s or Google’s led to their dropping the popular game. Epic’s move violated Apple’s and Google’s store policies.