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Apple threatens commissions on in-app purchases made outside its App Store

The threat is part of its ongoing legal battle with Fortnite maker Epic Games over the huge amounts of money generated from apps.

iPhone 12 Pro Max with MacBook Pro and Apple logo
Apple is attempting to delay a court order that could upend the way its App Store runs.
James Martin/CNET

Apple said it may expand its App Store commission structure as it approaches a legal deadline to change how developers charge customers for items in apps for its iPhones and iPads

Next week, the tech giant must begin implementing a federal court's injunction from a legal battle with Fortnite maker Epic Games. The order, dated Sept. 10, says Apple must allow developers to include buttons or links in their apps that give people the chance to purchase digital items outside its App Store within 90 days

In a legal filing to the US Court of Appeals on Tuesday, Apple said it's facing "substantial engineering" challenges to allowing developers to circumvent its in-app purchase system while still providing "layers of protection" it currently offers, like parental controls as well as purchase authorization and tracking.

"Apple would have to create a system and process for doing so," Apple said in its filing, adding that doing so would "impose irreparable injury" if it wins an appeal. For those reasons, it's asking the appeals court to delay the federal judge's order until the appeals process has concluded.

Epic, in a competing filing, said Apple hadn't proven its case against the order. "Purchasing options outside of apps are already available on iOS devices," Epic wrote. "The injunction simply removes obstacles that Apple imposed to prevent users from learning about and choosing those options."

In theory, the new rule would mean people seeking to pay for extra lives in a game or a new look for their character could pay the developer directly, rather than using Apple's in-app purchase system. That service, which Apple has operated since 2008, charges developers up to a 30% commission on any digital items bought within apps. The new filing was earlier reported by the Foss Patents blog.

Apple's new filing to the appeals court marks its latest move in its ongoing efforts to keep control of the App Store. The tech giant's been battling with various app developers in and out of court over rules Apple says are designed to keep iPhone and iPad owners safe from scams and security issues. Fortnite maker Epic, meanwhile, has argued that Apple's efforts to retain control over its App Store hurt competition and keep app prices high because Apple forces many developers -- particularly game makers -- to pay its commissions.

The debate has extended far beyond the courtroom, sparking conversations among lawmakers in the US and overseas who are now considering a series of laws designed to limit the power of big tech companies, including Apple. 

Apple's asked the appeals court to respond by Dec. 8, the estimated date the injunction goes into effect. The appeals court has not filed a response indicating it will rule by that date.