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Epic v. Google: Why Does It Matter Who Decides Your Case?

The Epic v. Google case, a significant legal battle in the tech industry, reached a pivotal conclusion with a jury finding Google’s practices around its Play Store and Play Billing to be an illegal monopoly. This decision was made by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California after Epic Games, the maker of “Fortnite”, accused Google of stifling competition and engaging in anticompetitive practices. The case focused on Google’s requirement for developers to pay commissions even if they use third-party payment services and allegations that Google paid developers to secure their exclusive presence on the Play Store.

The jury’s decision was swift, coming after just three hours of deliberations. This verdict has broader implications for the tech industry, especially in the realm of app distribution and in-app payment processing on the Android platform. Epic Games did not seek monetary damages but aimed to challenge Google’s control over app distribution and payment processes. This case is part of a larger debate over the power and influence of major tech companies in digital markets.

Following the verdict, Google announced its intention to appeal, emphasizing the competition it faces from Apple and other app stores on Android devices and gaming consoles. The case will return to court in early 2024 for the consideration of remedies, which could involve significant changes to how Google operates the Play Store. This decision is part of a series of global antitrust challenges that Google is facing, including private civil lawsuits in the U.S. and antitrust fines in the EU.

The Epic v. Google verdict is a landmark in the ongoing discourse about the dominance of big tech companies and their impact on competition and innovation in the digital marketplace. It highlights the increasing scrutiny of these companies by legal systems and regulators worldwide, raising questions about the future of app distribution and monetization on major platforms.

But a really important question is how Google lost when Apple won. The outcome of the Epic v. Google case contrasts with a similar antitrust case Epic Games filed against Apple. In the case against Apple, which did not involve a jury, the court largely ruled in Apple’s favor. However, the Epic v. Apple case is currently pending at the U.S. Supreme Court, with Epic looking to revive its challenge against Apple’s App Store rules.

In my opinion, the most important difference between the two cases is the jury. Whereas in the Apple case, the judge made the judgment and ultimately concluded that the contract between the two giant companies, with all its legal twists and turns, was the governing contract, in the Google case the theatricality, as seen in American movies, played a much greater role.

This case was presented before a jury, rather than being decided by a judge in a bench trial.

This allowed Epic to craft a narrative centered around morality, while Google was left grappling with the intricacies of its commercial transactions. Epic presented the jury with a series of documents that appeared to be unfair, suggesting that Google had engaged in practices that could be described as “bribing” or “blocking” its partners from becoming competitors. Although a judge may have deemed those agreements as typical, the jury, as the final authority, may have witnessed the behind-the-scenes process for the first time.

Moreover, Google’s internal emails and strategy plans unequivocally demonstrated the executives’ intention to impede the progress of competing app stores, and the jury acknowledged and supported this fact. The jury was present for two instances of peculiarity involving the Spotify figures, during which Google made a deliberate effort to withhold this information from being disclosed in the public courtroom. Google had configured all individual chats to have an automatic 24-hour self-deletion feature as the default setting. Employees, including the CEO, deliberately took advantage of this feature to ensure the disappearance of specific talks. Judge James Donato explicitly uttered these precise comments to the jury a few hours prior to their final decision: “You have seen evidence that Google Chat communications were deleted with the intent to prevent their use in litigation. You may infer that the deleted Chat messages contained evidence that would have been unfavorable to Google in this case.”

For all these reasons, it was not difficult for Epic to make Google look bad to the jury as a company abusing its monopoly position. And the result is in the verdict.

János Tamás Papp JD, PhD is an assistant professor at Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Hungary, and a legal expert at the Department of Online Platforms of the National Media and Infocommunications Authority of Hungary. He has taught civil and constitutional law since 2015 and became a founding member of the Media Law Research Group of the Department of Private Law. He earned his JD and PhD in Law at the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences of the Pázmány Péter Catholic University. His main research fields are freedom of speech, media law, and issues related to freedom of expression on online platforms. He has a number of publications regarding social media and the law, including a book titled “Regulation of Social Media Platforms in Protection of Democratic Discourses”.

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