Epic Games has filed a motion for injunctive relief to prevent Google from removing independent music retailer Bandcamp from its Android app store — which Google has apparently threatened to do because Bandcamp uses its own billing system instead of charging Google an app store fee. Pay.
Bandcamp, which Epic acquired in March, has been using its own billing system on Android since 2015 and was able to do so because of rules exempting digital music from using Google’s billing system, according to a blog post by Bandcamp co-founder and CEO Ethan Diamond. “However, Google is now changing its rules to require Bandcamp (and other similar apps) to use Google Play billing exclusively for payments for digital goods and services, and pay a share of revenue to Google,” said Diamond.
Under Google’s new rules, Bandcamp should make changes from June 1. Diamond says Bandcamp would have to choose between charging fees to customers, charging artists fees, running its Android business at a loss, or turning off sales in the Android app.
Epic argues that switching to Google’s billing system would affect its ability to continue giving artists 82 percent of their Bandcamp revenue, because it would have to pay Google 10 percent — yes, 10 percent, not 30 percent, since it seems like google bandcamp what kind of sweetheart deal here. “If Google paid even a 10 percent revenue share, Epic would have to change Bandcamp’s current business model or else run the Bandcamp business at a loss in the long run,” said Epic.
Epic also claims that music artists may have to wait longer for their money, saying that the current payment system ensures that artists are paid within 24 to 48 hours of a sale, but that Google developers only “15 to 45 days after a sale.”
While that argument certainly sounds convincing, it didn’t work when another platform trying to pay creators, Fanhouse, tried it against Apple last year. Fanhouse ended up adding a 50 percent surcharge to cover the Apple tax. That could be why Epic is going to court rather than just publicly disgracing Google, but it could also be that Epic is hoping to use Bandcamp as a pawn in its bigger fight against Google and Apple. Epic sued both Apple and Google in August 2020 for antitrust violations after both platforms were kicked out Fortnite from their stores when Epic introduced its own in-app payment mechanism for the game. The Google case will not go to court until 2023.
In today’s filing, Epic says Google is changing its policy “under the guise of a ‘clarification’ it announced in September 2020.” But that update hasn’t just impacted Epic — earlier this month, Barnes & Noble removed the ability to buy digital books from its Android app, while Audible no longer allows you to use a debit or credit card to buy Audible titles, seemingly to avoid having to pay Google’s fee. And in this case, Google Bandcamp seems to have offered a 10 percent discount instead of 30.
Epic also notes that building an infrastructure to integrate Google’s billing system would “take significant time and effort” — at this point, Bandcamp’s in-app solution is “fully integrated with PayPal.” But again, as Epic admits, Google announced these changes over a year ago, and before Epic bought Bandcamp. It seems likely that Epic was aware of the upcoming billing changes when it bought the company.
And it wouldn’t be strange for Epic to lay the groundwork for a legal trap well in advance. Epic’s own internal emails show it’s such a trap in the Fortnite case: “[T]The goal is to get Google involved in a legal battle over antitrust,” wrote Epic marketing director Haseeb Mailk in a September 2019 email. “If we get rejected for only offering Epic’s payment solution. The battle begins. It’s going to be fun!”
You can read two such emails here – look for items #35 and #38. And you can read the full motion embedded below.