Tech

Judge says Apple can block Fortnite but not Epic's Unreal Engine or developer tools

Key Points
  • Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers late Monday evening, through a temporary restraining order, blocked Apple's move to revoke Epic Games' developer accounts.
  • But, the judge also ruled that Apple can continue to ban Fortnite from the App Store for breaking the store's rules.
  • This lawsuit is expected to continue for many months, if not years. A full hearing is set for Sept. 28.

A federal judge in California late Monday evening, through a temporary restraining order, denied Apple's move to revoke Epic Games' developer accounts. But, the judge also said Apple can continue to ban Fortnite from the App Store for breaking the store's rules.

On Aug. 17, Apple threatened to cut off Epic Games' developer accounts effective Aug. 28, which meant Epic would be unable to develop or sell any games, not just Fortnite, through Apple's App Store. That game broke Apple's rules after Epic Games added a new in-app payment system that cut Apple out of revenue sharing.

Apple's threat also meant Epic Games would be unable to develop for the Unreal Engine that Epic Games offers to other developers who build games on the platform. At the time, Epic Games said the move was "attacking Epic's entire business in unrelated areas."

The court, at least for now, agrees on that front.

In the temporary restraining order, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said that, "with respect to Epic Games' motion as to its games, including Fortnite, Epic Games has not yet demonstrated irreparable harm" and that "the current predicament appears to be of its own making."

"We thank the court for recognizing that Epic's problem is entirely self-inflicted and is in their power to resolve," an Apple spokesperson told CNBC. "Our very first priority is making sure App Store users have a great experience in a safe and trusted environment, including iPhone users who play Fortnite and who are looking forward to the game's next season. We agree with Judge Gonzalez Rogers that 'the sensible way to proceed' is for Epic to comply with the App Store guidelines and continue to operate while the case proceeds. If Epic takes the steps the judge has recommended, we will gladly welcome Fortnite back onto iOS. We look forward to making our case to the court in September."

Epic Games declined to comment.

But, the court said that Epic Games has been able to show that a revocation of its developer tools would cause irreparable harm. "Epic International appears to have separate developer program license agreements with Apple and those agreements have not been breached," the court said of Epic's broader accounts used for Unity and other development.

"The parties' dispute is easily cabined on the antitrust allegations with respect to the App Store. It need not go further," the court said. "Apple has chosen to act severely, and by doing so, has impacted non-parties, and a third-party developer ecosystem."

"The record shows potential significant damage to both the Unreal engine platform itself, and to the gaming industry generally, including on both third-party developers and gamers," the court argued. "Epic Games and Apple are at liberty to litigate against each other, but their dispute should not create havoc to bystanders. Certainly, during the period of a temporary restraining order, the status quo in this regard should be maintained."

The lawsuit is expected to continue for many months, if not years. A full hearing is set for Sept. 28.

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Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers issued the order. The judge's ruling was filed on Monday evening, not Tuesday.