Apple fires back in court, says Epic Games CEO asked for special treatment

Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, speaks at the 2019 Dreamforce conference in San Francisco on November 19, 2019.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Apple responded to Epic Games’ lawsuit accusing it of anticompetitive behavior in how it controls the App Store, telling the court that the Fortnite maker violated Apple’s rules and shouldn’t be placed back into the store temporarily while the legal battle rages. 

In its filing, Apple alleges that Epic Games asked for an individual arrangement with Apple, producing three emails from Epic CEO Tim Sweeney that bolster its claim.

This is Apple’s first significant legal response to Epic Games after the dispute between the two companies spilled into the courts. It comes the week after Epic Games released a direct payment mechanism inside Fortnite designed to bypass the App Store’s payment system, from which Apple takes a 30% cut. Apple subsequently removed Fortnite from its store for violating its policies. People who already have Fortnite installed on their iPhones can continue to play, but cannot update or download the app for the first time. 

Epic sued it Apple in an attempt to force it to change its business practices and launched a “free Fortnite” marketing campaign portraying Apple as the villain.

Special deal?

Sweeney said earlier this month that Epic is not seeking a “special deal” with Apple that other iOS app makers don’t get. 

But in Friday’s filing, Apple disputed that point.

“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,” former Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller wrote in a declaration. Schiller, whose title is now Fellow, runs Apple’s App Store. 

Apple said Sweeney was asking permission for Epic to bypass in-app purchases and allow Fortnite players to pay it directly. Schiller said that Sweeney emailed him the morning that Forntite changed its payment mechanism saying that it “will no longer adhere to Apple’s payment processing restrictions.” 

Epic has asked for a temporary restraining order that would place Fortnite back on the App Store. A hearing on that order is scheduled for Monday in the Northern District of California.

“In the wake of its own voluntary actions, Epic now seeks emergency relief. But the ’emergency’ is entirely of Epic’s own making,” Apple’s lawyers said in the filing. 

Apple says that if Epic were to remove the payment mechanism it introduced, it would allow Fortnite to return to the App Store, and would not disable Epic’s developer account. If Epic were to lose its Apple developer accounts, it would not only  be unable to publish Fortnite for iPhones, but it would also hamper the development of the Unreal Engine, software that helps programmers make games, and is used in hundreds of apps from many other companies.

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