Epic drags Apple to court over App Store fees and more, judge orders a three-day evidentiary hearing as sanctions loom

App Store Iphone 13 Pro
(Image credit: Future)

Stories of Apple and Epic Games going after each other might have slowed since the days when the pair seemed to be in court every other week, but the battles of the App Store and its rules still rage on. It seems like forever since Fortnite was kicked out of the App Store, but the pair are heading back to court next month. And yes, it's all about the App Store once more.

This news comes after Epic argued that Apple is violating an anti-steering injunction that came into force in January 2024 after it was ordered as part of California's Unfair Competition Law back in September of 2021. Epic says that the way Apple restricts how developers can inform their users of alternative payment options is unfair, while it says the same about the way Apple still charges a commission for sales made outside of its payment options. And it turns out that a judge might agree.

Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California just so happens to be the same judge who presided over the 2021 trial and made the original ruling. And now she believes that Apple may not be in compliance with that injunction.

Out of compliance

Games Fray reports that Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers has now reached a preliminary conclusion that Apple is out of compliance with the injunction and that could ultimately find the company in contempt of court.

"Instead of holding only a short hearing on the matter which was scheduled for April 30, 2024, Judge Gonzalez Rogers has now scheduled a three-day evidentiary hearing for May 8, 10 and 17 in Oakland, California," the report explains. "The court will try to conclude the hearing on the first day (May 8), but just in case more time is needed has also reserved May 10 and 17." Apple will likely be happy with the outcome considering it " had argued that defendants are entitled to such a hearing when there are factual disputes."

What will happen next is anyone's guess, but the hearing will investigate Apple's limitations on how app developers offer payment options to their users. It's expected that the commission Apple charges on all sales — whether or not they are processed via the App Store — will also be a point of discussion.

“Having reviewed these arguments and the supporting documentation relevant thereto, the Court FINDS that Epic Games has made a sufficient preliminary showing that, viewed holistically, Apple’s practice changes undermine the spirit of the injunction by limiting competition, impeding the free flow of information, and constraining user choice,” the judge's order reads.

Ultimately, whatever happens during this new hearing, it's unlikely to be the last of it. Appeals are surely likely, and all of this happens with the European Union's Digital Markets Act in the background. The EU's rules do not apply in the United States of course, but it's unlikely that global lawmakers are not following its intent and application closely. Apple has so far been able to avoid having third-party app marketplaces enforced upon it in the US, for example, but the more Epic and Apple find themselves in court over App Store complaints, the more that could be likely to change.

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Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.