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Epic Games will take Apple to court again over new iOS app payment policies

Apple App Store

On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court declined to take on a request by Epic Games on its long court case against Apple. The lower courts had previously ruled that Apple's iOS app store and its policies did not violate antitrust rules. However, the Supreme Court also declined to rule on one part of the case that Apple lost.

The lower courts stated Apple's policy of forbidding app developers from "steering" consumers away from Apple's payment system to make digital purchases for their apps on other systems violated California's unfair competition law.

That should have been the end of the legal fight between Apple and Epic Games. Indeed, late on Tuesday, Apple posted a new support page, showing how iOS developers could put links in their apps to third-party web pages so consumers could have the chance to use payment systems that might be cheaper than Apple's.

The big problem is that those new policies have a lot of caveats. The biggest one is that even if an app developer puts in a link to their own payment system on the web in an iOS app, they must still send a portion of the money collected by that payment system to Apple. Specifically, the support page says:

Apple’s commission will be 27% on proceeds you earn from sales (“transactions“) to the user for digital goods or services on your website after a link out (i.e., they tap “Continue” on the system disclosure sheet), provided that the sale was initiated within seven days and the digital goods or services can be used in an app. This includes (a) any applicable taxes and (b) any adjustments for refunds, reversals and chargebacks. For auto-renewing subscriptions, (i) a sale initiated, including with a free trial or offer, within seven days after a link out is a transaction; and (ii) each subsequent auto-renewal after the subscription is initiated is also a transaction.]

In addition, Apple said that app developers who put in these links must "provide transaction reports within 15 calendar days following the end of each calendar month." They even have to send in a report if no revenues were collected via these links, explaining they didn't get any money from the third-party site.

Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games, posted on his X (formerly Twitter) account about this change, stating:

Apple has never done this before, and it kills price competition. Developers can't offer digital items more cheaply on the web after paying a third-party payment processor 3-6% and paying this new 27% Apple Tax.

Another issue that app developers might have with Apple's third-party payment "steering" policy is that Apple is making app developers move these web payment links away from where users would usually pay for transactions in the app. They must also use what Sweeney called a "scare screen" that has to be displayed if a person wants to access a third-party payment system in an iOS app. The screen has to say that "Apple is not responsible for the privacy and security of purchases made on the web."

With Apple's many restrictions on how developers can steer consumers to cheaper third-party payment plans, it looks like the court case that was finally finished is going to start with a new legal fight on this specific issue. Sweeney stated in his post, "Epic will contest Apple's bad-faith compliance plan in District Court."

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