U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who is overseeing the Apple v. Epic Games court battle, has granted a temporary restraining order to prevent Apple from revoking Epic Games’ developer account and blocking Epic’s access to the Unreal Engine development tools. However, she left the Fortnite App Store ban in place, preventing Fortnite from being updated until Epic complies with App Store rules on in-app purchases.
The jurist said Epic Games did not demonstrate irreparable harm, adding that the situation appears to be of its own making. She said that arguments from Epic fail to outweigh the “general public interest in requiring private parties to adhere to their contractual agreements or in resolving business disputes through normal, albeit expedited, proceedings.”
The judge pointed out that Epic International, which is a separate entity from Epic Games, is responsible for the Unreal Engine development, and that Epic International has “separate developer program license agreements with Apple and those agreements have not been breached.” From the judge’s ruling:
Thus, in focusing on the status quo, the Court observes that Epic Games strategically chose to breach its agreements with Apple which changed the status quo. No equities have been identified suggesting that the Court should impose a new status quo in favor of Epic Games. By contrast, with respect to the Unreal Engine and the developer tools, the Court finds the opposite result. In this regard, the contracts related to those applications were not breached. Apple does not persuade that it will be harmed based on any restraint on removing the developer tools. The parties’ dispute is easily cabined on the antitrust allegations with respect to the App Store. It need not go farther. Apple has chosen to act severely, and by doing so, has impacted non-parties, and a third-party developer ecosystem. In this regard, the equities do weigh against Apple.
Apple is temporarily prevented from restricting, suspending, or terminating any affiliate of Epic Games, such as Epic International, from Apple’s Developer Program. This means Epic can continue to work on and to distribute the Unreal Engine. The restraining order goes into effect immediately and will remain in force until the court issues an order on the motion for a preliminary injunction.
The hearing for the preliminary injunction is set to take place on Monday, September 28, 2020.
Apple earlier this month removed Fortnite from the App Store, just hours after Epic Games debuted a new direct payment option to get around Apple’s in-app purchases rules that give the Cupertino firm a 30% cut of the action. Epic Games immediately filed a lawsuit against Apple for pulling Fortnite from the App Store.
Apple then told Epic Games it would terminate the company’s complete access to its App Store and app development tools. Epic Games said that Apple told it that on August 28, all access will be terminated.
Such a termination, which has been restrained by the judge, would also end Epic’s access to the development tools it uses to create software for the Unreal Engine it offers to third-party developers for use in their games. That move would likely have a significant impact on all of the Mac and iOS apps and games that use Epic’s Unreal Engine.