Epic Games can go to court again with Bandcamp over Android billing policy, Google replies [U]

Last month, Epic Games announced they would buy the music platform Bandcamp. Now, Bandcamp is the latest reason Epic Games is taking legal action against Google, this time due to the technology giant’s Android apps’ billing intervention.

Epic Games has filed a preliminary injunction seeking to prevent Google from removing the Bandcamp app from the Play Store. Currently, Bandcamp is violating Google’s terms for Android app billing by not using Play Store billing.

In a blog post, Bandcamp co-founder Ethan Diamond points out that Bandcamp has had its own billing system on Android since 2015, which allows artists to sell their music and merchandise to fans. In previous years, this usage fell in line with Google’s guidelines for digital music services. However, Google has tightened its billing rules over the past year, and from June 1, Bandcamp and apps like it will be required to pay Google’s 30% reduction in in-app sales. However, as The edge points out that it appears that Bandcamp was offered a deal here with a 10% cut instead. Google confirmed in a statement that this was part of last year’s updates to Android’s billing policies, as described here.

Still, Epic and Bandcamp argue that any cut from Google would affect the ability to pay off to artists or increase the cost to buyers. Diamond explains in a post, emphasizing our own:

If Google’s policy changes continue to begin on June 1, we would have to either pass on Google’s fees to consumers (makes Android a less attractive platform for music fans), transfer fees to artists (which we would never do), permanently run our Android business at a loss, or turn off digital sales in the Android app. In addition, the policy would change affect our ability to pay artists quickly – instead of receiving payment after 24 to 48 hours, artists may only be paid 15 to 45 days after a sale.

As it stands today, Bandcamp is running its sales through PayPal, and Epic claims that switching to Google Play Billing would “require significant time and effort.” However, Epic admits that Bandcamp has been well aware of Google’s claims for over a year now, and Epic knew about the change when it bought the company.

Previously, Bandcamp did not support purchases through its iOS app, but now appears to offer its own billing system on Apple’s platform. Epic noted in an email to 9to5Google that this billing is only for physical goods sold through the platform and is not part of Apple’s “reader” policy introduced last month.

Update 30/4: Talking to 9to5Google, a Google Play spokesman has offered Google’s position on the matter. Google considers Epic’s claim to be “meritless” and points out that the 10% fee that Bandcamp is entitled to is actually less than the service charges its own users. According to a help page, Bandcamp charges 15% on the first $ 5,000 of sales, which then drops to 10% as long as annual sales are maintained.

Google’s statement reads:

This is yet another worthless claim from Epic, which is now using its newly acquired app Bandcamp to continue its efforts to avoid paying for the value that Google Play provides. We have been transparent about Plays’ payment policy for more than 18 months, and as Epic knows, Bandcamp is entitled to a service charge of only 10% through the Plays Media Experience Program – far less than the fees they charge on their own platforms. Despite their claims, Android’s openness means that Bandcamp has several ways to distribute their app to Android users, including through other app stores, directly to users via their website or as a consumer-friendly app, as they do on iOS.

Bandcamp is not the only app that has been affected by Google’s repression. Barnes & Noble and Amazon have recently made changes to their e-book apps to remove the ability to purchase content, and there are many other examples out there. However, Google has been working on “User Choice” billing in a pilot with Spotify.

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