Apple Tells Judge Fortnite Row ‘Of Epic’s Own Making’

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Apple tells court Fortnite can return to App Store as soon as Epic removes its independent payment system, amidst antitrust row over app commissions

Apple has asked a US federal judge in California to deny a request by software developer Epic to return its popular Fortnite game to the Apple App Store, saying Epic knowingly violated its rules.

Epic chief executive Tim Sweeney said earlier this month that Epic was not seeking a “special deal” with Apple that would not be available to other iOS software makers.

But Apple challeged this claim, producing three emails from Sweeney that it said show the company was looking for an individual arrangement allowing it to bypass Apple’s built-in payment system.

The filing is Apple’s first significant response to an antitrust lawsuit filed by Epic against Apple after the company removed Fortnite from the App Store.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook at WWDC 2020. Image credit: Apple
Apple chief executive Tim Cook at WWDC 2020. Image credit: Apple

Direct payment

Last week Epic released a direct payment system for Fortnite in-game purchases that bypasses Apple’s payment system, which extracts a 15 percent to 30 percent commission.

The move prompted Apple to remove Fortnite from the App Store, saying Epic had violated its policies.

Epic then sued Apple to force it to change its business practices, and has also launched a “free Fortnite” marketing campaign that depicts Apple as the villain.

In a filing on Friday, former Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller said Sweeney wrote to him and his colleagues asking for a “side letter” from Apple that would create a “special deal”, allowing users to pay the company directly.  Schiller, now Fellow at Apple, runs the company’s App Store.

Schiller said Sweeney also emailed him the morning that Epic changed Fortnite’s payment mechanism, sayin the company “will no longer adhere to Apple’s payment processing restrictions”.

Restraining order

Epic has asked for a temporary restraining order that would allow Fortnite to continue to be available in the App Store.  A hearing is scheduled on that order on Monday in the Northern District of California.

Apple said the problem was “of Epic’s own making”.

“In the wake of its own voluntary actions, Epic now seeks emergency relief. But the ’emergency’ is entirely of Epic’s own making,” the company’s attorneys said in the filing.

Apple said it would allow Fortnite to return to the App Store if Epic removed its payment mechanism, and would not disable Epic’s developer account.

Disabling Epic’s account would make Epic unable to publish Fortnite for iPhones and iPads and would also be problematic for the development of the Unreal Engine gaming engine, used in hundreds of apps from third-party developers.

Apple’s App Store practices are under investigation by US and EU competition authorities.

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