A federal appeals court delivered a last-minute reprieve to Apple on Wednesday, agreeing to the company’s request to delay a legal order requiring it to make policy changes to its App Store that could help app developers circumvent what they say are unfair fees.
If the appeals court had not ruled, Apple on Thursday would have had to start allowing companies to include links within their apps directing customers to outside websites where they can pay for those companies’ services or subscriptions. That would have prevented Apple from taking a cut of up to 30% on those transactions.
The order was initially made in September as part of the verdict in a yearlong court case between Apple and Epic Games, the creator of the popular video game Fortnite. Epic sued Apple, accusing it of engaging in anticompetitive behavior that harmed developers and consumers through its fees and strict App Store rules.
In a brief document, three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit wrote that Apple could wait to make any changes until the appeals process for the Epic lawsuit concluded, which could take more than a year.
The ruling adds another wrinkle in a lengthy legal battle over whether app developers have the right to inform their customers about ways to pay for their services outside the App Store.
After a three-week trial in May, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland ruled largely in Apple’s favor, saying the tech giant was not a monopolist.
But she did say Apple was violating California competition law with its so-called anti-steering provision, which blocked developers from telling their customers about ways to pay outside the App Store. Gonzalez Rogers ordered Apple to drop the anti-steering rule by December.
Apple appealed the verdict in October and requested a stay of Gonzalez Rogers’ injunction about the anti-steering rule until the appeals process played out. She denied the company’s request in November, but the federal appeals court disagreed with her.
“Apple has demonstrated, at minimum, that its appeal raises serious questions on the merits of the district court’s determination that Epic Games Inc. failed to show Apple’s conduct violated any antitrust laws but did show that the same conduct violated California’s Unfair Competition Law,” the judges on the appeals court wrote. They added that Apple had also “made a sufficient showing of irreparable harm” to the App Store if it was forced to make policy changes.
In a statement, Apple thanked the appeals court and reiterated its argument against tweaking its strict App Store rules. “Our concern is that these changes would have created new privacy and security risks and disrupted the user experience customers love about the App Store,” the company said.
With Wednesday’s ruling, Apple bought some time, but it could ultimately have to comply with Gonzalez Rogers’ order if it loses on appeal.