Apple has filed legal documents opposing Epic’s attempt to have itself reinstated in the iOS App Store, after having been kicked out last week for flouting its rules. Apple characterizes the entire thing as a “carefully orchestrated, multi-faceted campaign” aimed at circumventing — perhaps permanently — the 30% cut it demands for the privilege of doing business on iOS.
Epic last week slyly introduced a way to make in-app purchases in its popular game Fortnite without going through Apple. This is plainly against the rules, and Apple soon kicked the game, and the company’s other accounts, off the App Store. Obviously having anticipated this, Epic then published a parody of Apple’s famous 1984 ad, filed a lawsuit and began executing what Apple describes quite accurately as “a carefully orchestrated, multi-faceted campaign.”
In fact, as Apple notes in its challenge, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney emailed ahead of time to let Apple know what his company had planned. From Apple’s filing:
Around 2am on August 13, Mr. Sweeney of Epic wrote to Apple stating its intent to breach Epic’s agreements:
“Epic will no longer adhere to Apple’s payment processing restrictions.”
This was after months of attempts at negotiations in which, according to declarations from Apple’s Phil Schiller, Epic attempted to coax a “side letter” from Apple granting Epic special dispensation. This contradicts claims by Sweeney that Epic never asked for a special deal. From Schiller’s declaration:
Specifically, on June 30, 2020, Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeney wrote my colleagues and me an email asking for a “side letter” from Apple that would create a special deal for only Epic that would fundamentally change the way in which Epic offers apps on Apple’s iOS platform.
In this email, Mr. Sweeney expressly acknowledged that his proposed changes would be in direct breach of multiple terms of the agreements between Epic and Apple. Mr. Sweeney acknowledged that Epic could not implement its proposal unless the agreements between Epic and Apple were modified.
One prong of Epic’s assault was a request for courts to grant a “temporary restraining order,” or TRO, a legal procedure for use in emergencies where a party’s actions are unlawful, a suit to show their illegality is pending and likely to succeed, and those actions should be proactively reversed because they will cause “irreparable harm.”
If Epic’s request were to be successful, Apple would be forced to reinstate Fortnite and allow its in-game store to operate outside of the App Store’s rules. As you might imagine, this would be disastrous for Apple — not only would its rules have been deliberately ignored, but a court would have placed its imprimatur on the idea that those rules may even be illegal. So it is essential that Apple slap down this particular legal challenge quickly and comprehensively.
Apple’s filing challenges the TRO request on several grounds. First, it contends that there is no real “emergency” or “irreparable harm” because the entire situation was concocted and voluntarily initiated by Epic:
Having decided that it would rather enjoy the benefits of the App Store without paying for them, Epic has breached its contracts with Apple, using its own customers and Apple’s users as leverage.
But the “emergency” is entirely of Epic’s own making…it knew full well what would happen and, in so doing, has knowingly and purposefully created the harm to game players and developers it now asks the Court to step in and remedy.
Epic’s complaint that Apple banned its Unreal Engine accounts as well as Fortnite related ones, Apple notes, is not unusual, considering the accounts share tax IDs, emails and so on. It’s the same “user,” for their purposes. Apple also says it gave Epic ample warning and opportunity to correct its actions before a ban took place. (Apple, after all, makes a great deal of money from the app as well.)
Apple also questions the likelihood of Epic’s main lawsuit (independent of the TRO request) succeeding on its merits — namely that Apple is exercising monopoly power in its rent-collecting on the App Store:
[Epic’s] logic would make monopolies of Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, just to name a few.
Epic’s antitrust theories, like its orchestrated campaign, are a transparent veneer for its effort to co-opt for itself the benefits of the App Store without paying or complying with important requirements that are critical to protect user safety, security,
Lastly Apple notes that there is no benefit to the public interest to providing the TRO — unlike if, for example, Apple’s actions had prevented emergency calls from working or the like, and there was a serious safety concern:
All of that alleged injury for which Epic improperly seeks emergency relief could disappear tomorrow if Epic cured its breach…All of this can happen without any intervention of the Court or expenditure of judicial resources. And Epic would be free to pursue its primary lawsuit.
Although Apple eschews speculating further in its filings, one source close to the matter suggested that it is of paramount importance to that company to avoid the possibility of Epic or anyone else establishing their own independent app stores on iOS. A legal precedent would go a long way toward clearing the way for such a thing, so this is potentially an existential threat for Apple’s long-toothed but extremely profitable business model.
The conflict with Epic is only the latest in a series going back years in which companies challenged Apple’s right to control and profit from what amounts to a totally separate marketplace.
Most recently Microsoft’s xCloud app was denied entry to the App Store because it amounted to a marketplace for games that Apple could not feasibly vet individually. Given this kind of functionality is very much the type of thing consumers want these days, the decision was not popular. Other developers, industries and platforms have challenged Apple on various fronts as well, to the point where the company has promised to create a formal process for challenging its rules.
But of course, even the rule-challenging process is bound by Apple’s rules.