Fortnite: Another Google antitrust battle reaches court in Epic Games case

For two months, Google has squared off against the Justice Department in court in Washington over claims that the company is abusing its dominant position in online search and advertising to crush rivals, a high-stakes antitrust case that could reshape the world’s most popular search engine. Now, it’s facing another legal challenge closer to home.

On Monday, Epic Games, the company behind the hit game Fortnite, will appear in federal court in San Francisco to kick off a monthlong trial in its own antitrust lawsuit against Google. Epic is expected to argue that Google is violating both state and federal antitrust laws by wielding monopolistic power over app developers on its Google Play Store on Android mobile phones.

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The video game developer had tried to bypass the Play Store’s fees by letting Fortnite players pay Epic directly for in-app items, prompting Google to bar the game from the store.

If Epic wins, Google could be forced to alter its restrictive Play Store rules, allowing other companies to offer competing app stores and making it easier for developers to avoid the cut it collects from in-app purchases. Google generally takes a 15% fee for customer payments for app subscriptions and 30% for purchases made within apps that are downloaded from the store. (The company says 99% of developers qualify for a fee of 15% or lower on in-app purchases. Larger app makers like Epic must pay 30%.)

The simultaneous antitrust suits underscore how Google is playing defense on multiple fronts as regulators and competitors try to chip away at its influence over the internet.

Part of a wider effort by tech regulators in recent years to curb the ever-increasing power of Big Tech, the lawsuits are potentially damaging distractions for Google when it is trying to focus on competing with Microsoft, OpenAI and others in the emerging field of generative artificial intelligence.

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“It’s hard to imagine Google makes it out of the gauntlet” unscathed in the next year, said Paul Swanson, an antitrust lawyer from the firm Holland & Hart. “At some point with this many cases, one breaks against you.”

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