Google’s Play Store Ruled an Illegal Monopoly in Epic Games Lawsuit
In a groundbreaking verdict, a San Francisco jury has unanimously declared Google’s Play Store an illegal monopoly, siding with Epic Games in a battle that could reshape the mobile app marketplace. This ruling, which marks a significant loss for Google and a victory for Epic Games, underscores the intensifying legal challenges faced by major tech companies over their market practices.
- Jury Verdict Against Google: A jury in San Francisco found that Google violated antitrust laws through practices that stifled competition for its Play mobile app store. This represents a significant legal setback for Google and a notable victory for Epic Games.
- Epic Games’ Allegations: Epic Games accused Google of monopolistic behavior in the Android app market. The complaint centered on Google restricting alternatives to its Play Store and binding app developers to use its billing system, where Google takes up to a 30% cut of sales.
- Potential Implications of the Ruling: The verdict could lead to major changes in Google’s Play Store operations, potentially offering users more app choices and better pricing. However, Google’s intention to appeal may delay any immediate impact.
- Broader Antitrust Context: This case is part of a larger trend of increasing legal scrutiny on big tech companies for potential anticompetitive practices. It is especially notable in the context of another upcoming decision regarding Google’s dominance in web search.
- Comparison with Apple Case: The verdict contrasts with Epic’s previous legal battle against Apple, where the outcome was less favorable for Epic. That case, which is pending a Supreme Court decision, had less impact on Apple’s App Store practices.
The roots of this lawsuit trace back to 2020, when Epic Games, the creator of the popular game Fortnite and various developer tools, filed a lawsuit against Google. The crux of Epic’s argument was Google’s alleged monopolistic control over the Android app market, effectively stifling any competition to the Play Store. According to the lawsuit, over 95 percent of all app downloads on Android phones in the United States happen through Google’s Play Store, a testament to its dominant position.
Epic accused Google of engaging in anticompetitive behavior by restricting smartphone manufacturers, wireless carriers, and app developers from offering any viable alternatives to the Play Store. Furthermore, Epic highlighted Google’s policy that binds app developers selling digital items on the Play Store to use its billing system, from which Google takes up to 30 percent of sales.
Google, in its defense, denied any wrongdoing, maintaining that its primary goal was to ensure a safe and attractive user experience. Google argued that it faces significant competition from Apple and its App Store, which counters the monopoly accusations.
The jury faced a series of complex questions during their deliberation, including defining the relevant product and geographic markets and determining whether Google’s conduct in those areas was anticompetitive. After three hours of consideration, the jury found Google’s actions in violation of antitrust laws.
This verdict could lead to significant changes in how Google operates its Play Store. If Google is forced to allow downloads of rival app stores from Play or share more sales revenue with developers, consumers could benefit from more app options and lower prices. However, these changes are not immediate, as Google’s intention to appeal the verdict could delay any potential impact for years.
This case against Google is part of a broader narrative of increasing legal scrutiny on big tech companies. Another critical case to watch is the upcoming decision on Google’s alleged web search monopoly, expected in mid-2024, brought by the US Department of Justice and attorneys general from nearly every US state and territory.
The outcome of Epic’s lawsuit against Google contrasts with its previous legal battle against Apple. In the Epic vs. Apple case, the federal judge ordered Apple to make only one significant change to its App Store practices, finding most of Apple’s practices justified. That decision is currently awaiting a Supreme Court review.
In the closing arguments of the Epic vs. Google case, Epic’s attorney Gary Bornstein emphasized Google’s dominance in the Android market and its efforts to promote the Play Store to the detriment of competition. Conversely, Google’s attorney Jonathan Kravis argued that the competition between Google and Apple in the mobile app distribution market was evidence of a competitive environment.
The jury’s decision, based on the standard of preponderance of the evidence, is a significant moment in the tech industry. It reflects the increasing legal challenges that big tech companies face and the growing scrutiny of their market practices. Following the verdict, Epic’s legal team and CEO Tim Sweeney were visibly jubilant, underscoring the importance of this victory for Epic and potentially for the broader app developer community.
The ruling against Google’s Play Store represents a pivotal moment in the tech industry. It highlights the ongoing debate about the power of tech giants and their impact on competition and innovation. As the legal landscape evolves, it will be critical to watch how these decisions influence the digital marketplace and whether they lead to more consumer-friendly and competitive environments.
- WIRED: “Google’s App Store Ruled an Illegal Monopoly, as a Jury Sides With Epic Games” (December 11, 2023).