When news broke of an unlikely threat to Apple’s App Store from the North Dakota State Senate of all places, the first thing most of us who follow and cover Apple thought was why: why there and why now? The answer has become quite clear after some digging by the press got to the heart of the matter.
According to the New York Times, this bill was hand delivered by a lobbyist working for Epic Games and the Coalition for App Fairness:
Mr. Davison said he had been given the draft legislation by Lacee Bjork Anderson, a lobbyist with Odney Public Affairs in Bismarck. Ms. Anderson said in an interview that she had been hired by Epic Games, the maker of the popular game Fortnite and the plaintiff in lawsuits against Apple and Google over their app policies. She said she was also being paid by the Coalition for App Fairness, a group of firms, including Epic, Spotify and Match Group, that has protested app commissions and is leading the push for app-store bills.
Tim Sweeney tied to distance himself from this legislation with the following statement on Twitter:
North Dakota’s effort to combat app store monopolies is awesome for consumers and developers. The Coalition for App Fairness organized the outreach, lobbying, and developer participation. Can’t take credit for it, but Epic is proud to be a part of it!https://t.co/Zi0iDMpkaz
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) February 16, 2021
Sweeney can try to cover his tracks by bringing up North Dakota State Senator Kyle Davidson, who sponsored the bill, or the Coalition for App Fairness. However, let’s just be intellectually honest here- despite the EXTREMELY thin veil, this whole thing was the work of Sweeney and Epic Games. Period. Full Stop.
That is why I flat-out said this is Epic Games’ bill in the title of this article. Just follow the money and it will prove to be true. There may be 50 companies who have joined the CAF, but anyone who is paying attention knows that this is just a vehicle driven by Epic and Spotify to bolster their complaints against Apple with a couple of squeaky wheels like David Heinemeier Hansson chiming in to get some attention for themselves. Check out the end of the NYT article for his latest turn grabbing a little of the spotlight.
The bill in question ultimately failed to get out of the North Dakota Senate by a healthy 36 to 11 margin. However, I don’t think that came as a surprise to those who pushed it forward. At the end of the day, this whole thing was really just another publicity stunt by Tim Sweeney and Epic and it was swatted down by Apple lobbyists using scare tactics and hyperbole to scare away votes. This is the same kind of dance that plays out with many pieces of legislation at both the state and federal levels, even if the players pulling the strings on both sides are different than we’re used to.
You can bet this same situation will continue to play out in any state where lobbyists bankrolled by Tim Sweeney can convince someone in the legislature to grab some headlines by sponsoring an anti-Apple bill that they hand them. But here’s the thing- passing a bill at the state level isn’t going to matter. This issue is NOT going to ultimately play out in any state legislature.
That’s because, even if Epic can hit on a state that can manage to pass such a bill without a veto from the governor, it won’t go into effect unless it can pass through a legal maze that will lead to that state’s Supreme Court, and then ultimately the US Supreme Court. An issue like this is destined to play out through the highest levels of the US legal system, just like Epic’s current lawsuit against Apple.
I’m sure this fact isn’t lost on Sweeney and Epic, or their legal team and lobbyists. There’s only a small chance of success that a bill like this will pass, become law, and stand, and that success would take years to and many, many millions to win. So let’s just call this what it really is- a diversion. This is a way for Epic to try and keep Apple busy with legal battles on multiple fronts across the country and get media attention for it in the process. Of course, Apple is no stranger to such things. They and Samsung spent the better part of a decade playing cat and mouse over patents and intellectual property all over the world, so I doubt they will suffer much from it.
“Moves and countermoves.” That’s how Plutarch Heavensbee and President Snow described such cat and mouse games in the Hunger Games book and movie series. Make no mistake, when you remove all of the details of this little drama, it all boils down to Tim Sweeney and Apple going back and forth over the same things as before. The tactics, the venue, and the window dressing may be different, but that’s all it really is. And that won’t change when the next state takes the bait in the coming months, either.