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Judge dismisses Apple’s Fortnite theft claims against Epic

(Image Credit: Essentially Sports)
(Image Credit: Essentially Sports)
Izaak
ANALYST
Modified 12 Nov 2020, 01:36 IST
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A recent development in the Fortnite fight between Apple and Epic Games has resulted in a judge dismissing two of Apple’s suits against Epic.

Epic filed a motion to dismiss two of Apple’s claims, one stating that Epic had stolen from Apple and another asking the court to force Epic to pay punitive damages. This dismissal refocuses the case on whether or not Epic had violated their contract with Apple, and if Apple’s grip on the App Store counts as an illegal monopoly or not.

Where does the case for Fortnite stand now?

It can be hard to follow legal developments. Lawyers are not known for their concise and clear communication, often preferring the precision afforded by a certain degree of “legalese.” While stripping away this kind of contract jargon can create an imprecise view of what is happening, it may be the only way to actually make sense of what is happening.

In short, Epic instituted a feature on the mobile versions of Fortnite that asked users if they would prefer to make purchases through Epic’s own service, rather than through Apple or Google’s services. This would give customers a discount, and prevent Apple or Google from being able to take 30% for themselves.

In response, Apple and Google both pulled Fortnite from their App Stores. For Android users, this didn’t affect them much, as there are other ways to play Fortnite on Android, but for iOS users, this effectively led to Fortnite becoming unplayable on all iOS devices.

Apple then sued Epic for a number of reasons, stating that Epic had violated their contract by instituting a payment option which bypassed Apple and withheld what Apple believes is money owed to them. 

Epic, meanwhile, made the case that Apple operated what counted as a monopoly, as any developer or creator who wishes to create anything for iOS must deal with Apple. This allows Apple to demand 30% of the revenue with creators having no alternative - something which Epic believes to be anti-capitalist and anti-free.

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The problem with easy explanations

The problem with explaining any further than that is that these kinds of legal arguments tend to get very litigious, and involve answering certain questions about free markets, government regulation, and economic philosophy.

Epic will have to convince a judge that what Apple runs is enough of a monopoly, that the U.S. government is obligated to take action against them. They will try to prove that Epic’s actions regarding Fortnite were legal in light of Apple’s monopoly. Apple, likewise, will have to convince a judge that their iron grip on digital products for iOS devices is not monopolistic, and that Epic’s actions violated a fair and legal contract.

Both of these companies will have to support their cases with legal precedent in accordance with common law practices, accounting for any relevant and recent legislation.

At every step, there is so much nuance and important context, that to explain any one of them in enough detail, would almost necessitate teaching an introductory college course on the American legal system.

In the context of Fortnite, this ruling implies that the judge in question will not be hearing arguments regarding theft or punitive damages at all. In a way, it may end up balancing the arguments by providing equal legal weight to both the monopoly and contract arguments.

Precedent is still stacked against Fortnite in this case, but at the very least, there does appear to be a legal avenue for Epic to actually make some ground in the developing war against Apple.

Published 12 Nov 2020, 01:36 IST
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