The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has affirmed the 2021 decision of a lower-court judge, which rejected most of Epic’s claims that Apple violated federal law by not allowing alternative app stores on its iOS ecosystem, as reported by Bloomberg.
“There is a lively and important debate about the role played in our economy and democracy by online transaction platforms with market power,” the 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.”
The long-standing legal challenge between the companies first began in 2020, after Epic introduced its own payment system for Fortnite that bypassed the controversial 30% in-app purchase fee, which resulted in the popular game’s removal from both the App Store and Google’s Play Store.
Apple mostly won the initial court battle in September 2021, when Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled in its favor in nine of ten counts. However, it lost one claim and was ordered to let developers place links and buttons inside their apps to direct users to alternative payment methods. Both Apple and Epic appealed the federal judge’s ruling.
While the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal has affirmed the previous ruling, it also upheld the part of the ruling that favored the Fortnite-maker. However, whether Apple should be required to allow developers to put links inside their apps will be decided in a future hearing.
Following the decision, an Apple spokesperson said: “Today’s decision reaffirms Apple’s resounding victory in this case, with nine of 10 claims having been decided in Apple’s favor. For the second time in two years, a federal court has ruled that Apple abides by antitrust laws at the state and federal levels. The App Store continues to promote competition, drive innovation, and expand opportunity, and we’re proud of its profound contributions to both users and developers around the world. We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling on the one remaining claim under state law and are considering further review.’’
In a tweet series, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney said: “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,” he added.