Apple has countersued Epic Games and accused it of masquerading as a “modern corporate Robin Hood”, marking a new escalation in its bitter legal feud with the maker of the popular Fortnite game.

It is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from Epic, claiming breach of contract and asking the court to bar the use of “unauthorised” in-app payment mechanisms in all of its apps, including Fortnite.

The iPhone maker said in a court filing that Epic has portrayed itself as a champion fighting on behalf of all developers, but in reality was seeking “free access” to Apple’s development tools so it could then create its own paid-for services.

“Epic’s intention is thus straightforward: it seeks free access to the Apple-provided tools that it uses and — worse yet — it wishes to then charge others for access to Apple’s intellectual property and technologies,” Apple said in a filing in California federal court.

The dispute started a month ago when Fortnite introduced its own payment mechanism that circumvented Apple’s 30 per cent fee for in-app purchases. Apple responded by banning Fortnite, the popular battle game, from the App store.

It also threatened to revoke Epic’s access to its $99-a-year developer programme and stop it from accessing tools for a separate graphics platform business called Unreal Engine.

Epic sued, calling that action a gross “retaliation” and won a temporary restraining order. However, its bid to keep Fortnite in the App Store failed.

iPhone users who have already downloaded Fortnite can continue to play the game, but they cannot access updated versions and are confined to playing against other iOS users. They can, however, purchase goods through Epic’s “unauthorised” payment system, letting it “pocket commissions that rightfully belong to Apple”, the iPhone maker said.

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The stakes for this dispute are high: a total win for Epic would, in Apple’s words, “threaten the entire App Store ecosystem”. A total win for Apple, Epic has said, would be “existential” for its Unreal Engine, a platform used by countless developers including Microsoft.

Apple has long said that charging developers a fee for any paid digital services on iPhones and iPads is not monopolistic, since it uses the fees to curate the App Store, protect consumers from dodgy apps and streamlines payment.

“There is nothing anti-competitive about charging a commission for others to use one’s service,” Apple said on Tuesday. “Many platforms — including Epic’s own app marketplace and Unreal Engine — do just that.”

Apple said in its filing that Epic had earned more than $600m from the App Store and benefited greatly from Apple developers’ tools. It accused Epic of taking “advantage of Apple’s support and services more than any other app developer for the past two years”.

Epic declined to comment.

Last week the games maker filed for a preliminary injunction seeking to restore Fortnite to the App Store, and warned of “irreparable harm” if it cannot access its developer account.

“For too long, developers have not spoken out because they fear Apple’s retaliation,” Epic said on Friday. “The company’s recent actions show that if you challenge Apple’s monopoly, Apple will attempt to destroy your business. We are committed to speaking up and securing lower cost, competitive access for all.”

Via Financial Times