Gaming

Judge in Fortnite trial reiterates Apple must allow external payment links in App Store


Apple has about a month until new rules go into effect.


James Martin/CNET

When Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers handed down her ruling in September saying the way Apple runs its iPhone and iPad App Store largely hadn’t violated antitrust laws, she included a caveat. The tech giant, she said in an order along with her ruling, must allow app developers to include links in their apps, steering people to alternative payment sites outside its App Store. This would deprive Apple of the up to 30% commission it charges for sales of digital items, such as movie subscriptions or a new look for a character in a game. But, she said, it would be more fair.

On Tuesday, she reiterated that argument when denying Apple’s request to delay, or “stay,” implementation of her order until after appeals by Fortnite maker Epic Games have run their course. That, she told Apple’s lawyer in the case Mark Perry during a hearing earlier Tuesday, could take years. 

“You did not ask for a few months, you didn’t ask for six months, you didn’t ask for a limited amount of time,” she continued. “You asked for an across the board stay, which could take three, four or five years. That’s what you asked for.” Perry, for his part, argued it could take six months to a year. 

Rogers’ order is set to go into effect on Dec. 9. Apple said in a statement that it still believes “no additional business changes should be required to take effect” until all the appeals in its case are resolved. “We intend to ask the Ninth Circuit for a stay based on these circumstances.”

The ruling is a setback for Apple, which has been fighting with Epic over Fortnite for more than a year. On its surface, their battle appears to be a debate about who gets more money when we spend money on an app in the App Store. But Epic’s attempting to raise larger questions about how much Apple’s allowed to control its App Store and the more than 1 billion active iPhones that are only allowed to download apps from that place. 

Apple’s Perry argued Tuesday that any changes to the App Store take time, and that it’s “exceedingly complicated” to create “guardrails and guidelines” to protect children, developers, consumers and Apple itself. He noted Apple has already made two changes to its App Store in the past few months that allow developers to contact users who opt in to email communication. Apple’s also allowed “reader” apps, which access music, movies or other content bought as part of a subscription or entertainment service, to offer links to alternative signup methods in their apps.

In her ruling Tuesday, Rogers said Apple’s worries are exaggerated, noting that the company’s new “reader” app rule, as well as other functionality Apple’s allowed in apps like Fortnite to play against people using other devices, and access accounts on a Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox, PC or other platform, are effectively “trial examples” that prove alternatives outside the app store “can be accommodated.”

“That the injunction may require additional engineering or guidelines is not evidence of irreparable injury,” Rogers wrote. “Rather, at best, it only suggests that more time is needed to comply.”

But since Apple instead chose to ask for an indefinite delay until after appeals finished, Rogers denied its request.



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