The US Supreme Court has given the go-ahead to an antitrust lawsuit accusing Apple of forcing consumers to overpay for iPhone software applications.
Consumer plaintiffs claim Apple monopolized the market in violation of federal antitrust law by requiring that apps be sold through its App Store and extracting an excessive 30 percent commission on purchases.
Apple argues it was acting as an agent for app developers, who set their own prices and pay Apple’s commission.
The dispute hinged in part on how the justices would apply a 1977 Supreme Court precedent. In that case, the court limited damages for anti-competitive conduct to those directly overcharged rather than indirect victims who paid an overcharge passed on by others.
Apple has said the consumers were indirect purchasers, at best, because any overcharge would be passed on to them by developers. The iPhone users who sued countered that they pay Apple – not an app developer – whenever buying an app from the App Store, and were, therefore, direct victims of the overcharges.
Apple had avoided much of the antitrust scrutiny faced by other technology firms including Facebook, largely by arguing that it does not have a dominant position in the many markets in which it operates, from smart phones and laptops to streaming music services.
Apple issues a statement showing, “Developers set the price they want to charge for their app and Apple has no role in that. The vast majority of apps on the App Store are free and Apple gets nothing from them.”
The ruling could lead to other lawsuits against technology companies which act as platforms for other products or services.