Apple Scores Another Win in Epic Antitrust Dispute

By | April 24, 2023

The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of Apple’s App Store policies, saying that it doesn’t violate federal antitrust law. The ruling confirms an earlier decision in an antitrust case brought by Epic Games, Bloomberg reports.

The latest decision is another blow to Epic in its ongoing dispute with Apple over the 30 percent cut it takes in in-app purchases. The dispute resulted in Fortnite being removed from the App Store — a deliberate PR play intended to weaponize the battle royale’s vast fanbase.

The case has been wending its way through the courts ever since, with the latest decision in favor of Apple. However, the court also upheld a 2021 ruling that the App Store violate California’s unfair competition law, which resulted in an injunction forcing Apple to permit developers on its platform to link to outside payment options with their apps.

“There is a lively and important debate about the role played in our economy and democracy by online transaction platforms with market power,” the three-judge panel said. “Our job as a federal court of appeals, however, is not to resolve that debate — nor could we even attempt to do so. Instead, in this decision, we faithfully applied existing precedent to the facts.”

Apple called the decision a “resounding victory” in a statement to Bloomberg, but said that it was considering further action on the state law ruling.

Epic told IGN in a statement:

Apple prevailed at the 9th Circuit Court. Though the court upheld the ruling that Apple’s restraints have “a substantial anticompetitive effect that harms consumers”, they found we didn’t prove our Sherman Act case. 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. We’re working on next steps.

There is a lively and important debate about the role played in our economy and democracy by online transaction platforms with market power

The previous decision saw US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers rule that the dispute was ultimately over “digital mobile gaming transactions,” and that it couldn’t conclude that Apple has a monopoly in that market. However, the court did call Apple’s conduct “anticompetitive,” leading to the injunction. Epic was also ordered to pay $6 million for breach of contract.

According to Bloomberg, the appeals court said that the previous ruling “erred” in defining the antitrust market in question, but ultimately found that Epic failed to “show its proposed market definition and the existence of any substantially less restrictive alternative means for Apple to accomplish the procompetitive justifications supporting iOS’s walled garden ecosystem.”

Apple and Epic first squared off in court in 2021 in what we called “the Gamer Trial. It led to a number of leaks of third-party secrets, much to the chagrin of Sony and other companies.

Epic hasn’t found much success in court since, but Fortnite continues to be a dominant force in gaming even without a presence on the App Store. Epic recently released an updated set of creation tools, bringing it ever closer to its vision of being a full-blowing gaming platform of its own. You can read our full interview with Tim Sweeney here.

Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN as well as co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Have a tip? Send her a DM at @the_katbot.