Epic to stop Google from yanking Bandcamp off Play Store

Epic Games has pointed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent Google from removing autonomous music storefront Bandcamp from the App store — which Google has threatened to do because Bandcamp is using its billing system instead of paying Google an app store fee.

In March, Bandcamp, which Epic acquired, has used its billing system on Android since 2015. Bandcamp was able to do so because of rules exempting digital music from having to use Google’s billing system.

However, Google is now modifying its rules to require Bandcamp (and other apps like it) to exclusively use Google Play Billing for payments for digital goods and services and pay a revenue share to Google,” Diamond says.

Under Google’s new regulations, Bandcamp would hold to make modifications beginning June 1st. As a result, Diamond says Bandcamp would be forced to pass on fees to customers, pass on costs to artists, run its Android business at a loss, or turn off sales in the Android app.

Epic claims that the switch to Google’s billing system would impact its ability to resume giving artists 82 percent of their Bandcamp payments. Instead, it would have to pay Google 10 percent — yes, 10 percent, not 30 percent, since it seems Google offered Bandcamp some sweetheart deal here. “Paying Google a 10 percent revenue share would push Epic to adjust Bandcamp’s current business model or operate the Bandcamp enterprise at a long-term loss,” reasons Epic.

Epic also claims music artists might wait longer for their money, declaring that its current payment system permits artists to be paid within 24 to 48 hours of a sale. Still, Google doesn’t disburse developers until “15 to 45 days after a sale.”

While that argument indeed sounds compelling, it didn’t work when another platform that tries to pay creators, Fanhouse, pushed it against Apple last year. Fanhouse wound up counting a 50 percent surcharge to protect the Apple tax. That could be why Epic is proceeding to the courts rather than simply attempting to shame Google publicly — but it could also be that Epic hopes to use Bandcamp as a pawn in its more giant fight against Google and Apple. Epic charged both Apple and Google in August 2020, alleging antitrust offenses after both platforms booted Fortnite off their stores when Epic presented its in-app payment mechanism to the game. Unfortunately, the Google issue won’t go to trial until 2023.

In today’s filing, Epic says Google is adjusting its policies “under the guise of a ‘clarification’ that it reported in September 2020.” But that update hasn’t just concerned Epic — earlier this month, Barnes & Noble removed the capacity to purchase digital books from its Android app. In addition, audible no longer allows you to use a debit or credit card to buy Audible titles, seemingly to evade paying Google’s fee. And in this case, Google appears to have offered Bandcamp a discount of 10 percent rather than 30.

Epic also notes that building infrastructure to integrate Google’s billing system would “require significant time and effort” — now, Bandcamp’s in-app solution is “fully integrated with PayPal.” But again, as Epic admits, Google announced these changes well over a year ago and before Epic bought Bandcamp. So Epic likely knew about the upcoming billing changes when it purchased the company.

And it wouldn’t be likely for Epic to lay the groundwork for a legal trap well in advance. Nevertheless, Epic’s own internal emails show that it laid such a trap in the Fortnite case: “[T]he goal is to draw Google into a legal battle over antitrust,” wrote Epic marketing director Haseeb Malik a September 2019 email. “If we are rejected for only offering Epic’s payment solution. The battle begins. It’s going to be fun!”