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Judge Demands Comprehensive Documents from Apple in App Store Contempt Hearing

 |  June 2, 2024

U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers will determine whether Apple should be held in contempt for violating an injunction aimed at curbing its allegedly uncompetitive App Store practices.

According to Courthouse News, the decision follows a Friday hearing, part of a monthlong series, where Epic Games alleged that Apple contravened the 2021 injunction by continuing to prevent developers from including external links and buttons in their apps—a practice deemed anticompetitive by the court.

The legal saga between Apple and Epic Games, best known for its game Fortnite, began in 2020. Epic accused Apple of monopolistic practices, arguing the tech giant’s policies forced developers to use Apple’s proprietary tools and in-app purchase system, thereby creating a “walled garden” that limited consumer choice and stifled competition.

The latest hearings, starting on May 8, have focused on whether Apple has complied with Judge Rogers’ injunction. Epic Games has said that Apple’s current policies amount to a “de facto prohibition on external links,” preventing developers from directing users to alternative purchasing options outside the App Store.

On Friday, Rogers emphasized the need for comprehensive documentation from Apple regarding its decision-making process post-injunction. “I want all of Apple’s documents relative to its decision-making process with respect to the issues in front of the court,” Rogers instructed Apple’s attorney, Mark Perry. “All of them. If there is a concern, then be overly broad” per Courthouse News.

Throughout the hearings, Epic Games has sought to prove that Apple’s practices continue to disadvantage developers and maintain its dominant market position. In a May 10 session, Rogers criticized Apple executive Philip Schiller for failing to provide data justifying Apple’s revised business strategy, suggesting that the changes were aimed at preserving its established revenue model.

Read more: Supreme Court Rejects Epic Games’ Challenge Against Apple’s App Store Policies

During the May 22 hearing, Epic accused Apple of discouraging developers from leveraging the policy changes mandated by the injunction. Apple refuted this claim, arguing that its policies do not prevent users from making external purchases and that any alerts about external links are adequately clear.

A key moment on the hearing’s final day featured testimony from Benjamin Simon, a software engineer representing the yoga fitness app Down Dog, Courthouse News said. Simon testified that his company offers lower prices for direct purchases on its website than it does on the App Store, noting that customers are 28% less likely to subscribe if they cannot access a direct link within the app. This, he argued, illustrates how Apple’s policies could drive more users to make in-app purchases, thereby increasing Apple’s commission profits.

In response, Apple’s attorney Perry noted that Down Dog could still place an external link informing customers about discounts available on its website. Perry also pointed out that Epic Games lacked data on how many users opt not to make external purchases when confronted with such alerts, a gap Epic’s witnesses acknowledged.

As the hearings concluded, Perry informed the court that Apple would produce a substantial volume of documents, a process that could take up to three months. Judge Rogers scheduled the next court session for Tuesday to further discuss the case.

Source: Courthouse News