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Fortnite maker ramps up anti-Apple rhetoric in new legal filing

By | Published on Tuesday 18 August 2020

Epic Games logo

‘Fortnite’ maker Epic Games has ramped up its legal efforts against Apple after taking its big beef over the tech giant’s App Store rules public last week.

In the latest update of its ‘Fortnite’ app, Epic introduced in-app payment options that circumvent the payment systems of Apple and Google on iOS and Android devices respectively. It did so knowing that such circumvention breaches the app rules of both tech giants. When Apple and Google inevitably responded by removing the ‘Fortnite’ app from their respective app stores, Epic hit back with both litigation and a public-facing PR campaign.

Epic, like many other media and entertainment companies that offer pay-as-you-go or subscription services via apps, don’t like having to pay Apple and Google a 15-30% commission on those transactions. They also hate the rules that say that companies can’t instead direct users to alternative payment platforms from within their apps.

These commissions and rules have been a bug bear for years, of course, though grievances have generally been aired behind the scenes. Spotify was one of the first to go public with its Apple beef, launching a consumer-facing website last year as it filed a formal complaint with the European Commission, arguing that the iOS app rules are anti-competitive.

However, the anti-Apple ad campaign Epic launched last week took the public airing of competition law disputes to a whole new level.

Meanwhile, back in the American courts, Epic is trying to have the sanctions Apple has introduced since last week’s app upgrade put on hold pending its litigation. And those sanctions go beyond removing ‘Fortnite’ from the Apple App Store.

The tech giant has also threatened to cut off Epic’s access to the development tools that are required to create software for use on Apple platforms. A move that would also affect the Unreal Engine that Epic operates which, the gaming firm explains, is used by loads of third party developers “to develop a wide array of products including games, films, biomedical research and virtual reality”.

In a strongly worded legal filing yesterday, Epic began by citing the recent hearing in US Congress that considered the dominance of the big tech and internet companies in America.

“Just over two weeks ago”, it states, “Apple’s CEO Tim Cook was asked during a Congressional hearing whether Apple has ‘ever retaliated against or disadvantaged a developer who went public about their frustrations with the App Store’. Mr Cook testified, ‘We do not retaliate or bully people. It’s strongly against our company culture’. But Apple has done just that”.

The legal filing outlines the sanctions Epic is now facing from Apple, stating that – while it is confident it will win the competition law litigation it kicked off last week – if it has to deal with those sanctions while fighting that lawsuit, its business will be greatly damaged. Which is why it wants a preliminary injunction now to pause all those sanctions while the other legal battle goes through the motions.

“Not content simply to remove ‘Fortnite’ from the App Store, Apple is attacking Epic’s entire business in unrelated areas”, the legal filing adds. “Epic is likely to succeed on the merits of its claims, but without an injunction, Epic will be irreparably harmed long before final judgment comes”.

“Technology markets move swiftly”, it goes on. “Left unchecked, Apple’s actions will irreparably damage Epic’s reputation among ‘Fortnite’ users and be catastrophic for the future of the separate Unreal Engine business”.

It remains to be seen how the court responds. Meanwhile, even Facebook has now joined the Apple-dissing party, criticising its rival’s App Store policies in a blog post just as the whole ‘Fortnite’ thing was getting started last week.

That blog post was an update on the social media giant’s previously announced plans to let people start charging for live streamed events delivered on its platform. As that functionality goes live, Facebook will not initially seek to charge a commission on transactions so to “support small businesses and creators”.

However, when payments are taken via Facebook’s iOS app, Apple will still take its 30% commission. “We asked Apple to reduce its 30% App Store tax”, the blog post stated, but the tech giant refused, meaning event organisers will only get 70% of the monies on transactions taken via an iOS device.

Facebook plans to make this clear within its app, although doing so will likely also violate Apple’s app rules. With that in mind, Facebook included a screen grab of its preferred messaging on the blog, so we can all compare that to whatever words Apple subsequently approves.

All this public dissing of Apple and its App Store rules will greatly please Spotify. Especially as its facing plenty of upcoming bad press as the US Copyright Royalty Board is forced to review the royalty rate increase previously provided to songwriters. That review, of course, is the result of legal action involving Spotify but, crucially, not Apple Music.

To that end, it will be very useful having ‘Fortnite’ gamers and Facebook event organisers helping the Spotify top guard to remind everyone that Apple – despite not objecting to the song royalty rate increase in the US – is still definitely evil.