Apple has been dealt a major blow over its App Store rules and ongoing fight with Fortnite developer Epic.
The iPhone maker has been forced by a judge to stop banning other apps from offering other ways to pay for digital services, away from its own payment systems.
The finding comes just days before Apple is expected to unveil the iPhone 13, and in the wake of a number of concessions seemingly aimed at reducing pressure from antitrust regulators.
The ruling came as part of the fight between Epic and Apple that came to a head in a US court case, during which Epic argued that Apple’s App Store rules were unfair.
It took issue with the requirement from Apple that it take a 30 per cent cut of any digital goods sold in any app on its iPhones. Epic also argued that it was unfair that companies were not able to circumvent that process by offering their own payment systems, and were instead forced to use Apple’s.
Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers issued an injunction that forced Apple to give up that rule, and said that it was no longer allowed to ban developers from including alternative ways to pay.
Apple is “permanently restrained and enjoined from prohibiting developers from including in their apps and their metadata buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms, in addition to In-App Purchasing and (ii) communicating with customers through points of contact obtained voluntarily from customers through account registration within the app”, she wrote in the injunction.
The ruling is not a comprehensive win for Epic. The judge also ruled that Apple must be paid for the money it lost as a result of Epic removing Fortnite from the App Store.
Apple and Epic have been fighting over the rules for the App Store for years. But it reached its most explosive peak last summer, when Epic added its own payment system to Fortnite, in contravention of the App Store rules.
In response to that, Apple kicked Fortnite out of the App Store, and it has not been available on the iPhone since. Epic began a publicity campaign that included attack ads on Apple – and a legal campaign that led to the trial.
That trial included a public and often emotional fight between Epic and Apple over the rules for its App Store. As well as the more legal arguments, a number of documents were revealed during the case, some of which led to more animosity from developers.
The new injunction is the result of that case. As well as banning the prohibition of other payment systems and requirement that Epic pay some costs, it also gives 90 days before the rules will go into effect and leaves open the possibility of appeal.
In a statement, Apple drew attention to the judge’s finding that it was not in contravention of antitrust law.
“Today the court has affirmed what we’ve known all along: the App Store is not in violation of antitrust law,” a spokesperson said. “As the court recognised ‘success is not illegal.’
“Apple faces rigorous competition in every segment in which we do business, and we believe customers and developers choose us because our products and services are the best in the world. We remain committed to ensuring the App Store is a safe and trusted marketplace that supports a thriving developer community and more than 2.1 million US jobs, and where the rules apply equally to everyone.”