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US appeals court says public has right to sue Apple over App Store exclusivity

A U.S. federal appeals court ruled on Thursday that people do indeed have the right to sue Apple over limiting iOS devices to apps from the App Store, potentially paving the way for an open app marketplace in the future.

In a previous decision, a lower court sided with Apple's claim that people do not have the standing to sue because they are technically buying apps from developers, not the company, Reuters reports. Today, however, Judge William A. Fletcher pointed out that people pay for iOS apps through Apple, which gives them grounds for action.

Apple has refused to comment and has not indicated whether it plans to challenge the ruling.

At the heart of the matter is a 2012 lawsuit by a group of iPhone owners who accused the company of being anti-competitive. The Fletcher ruling does not resolve that case, but simply opens the door for future actions that could see Apple once again land in court.

Traditionally, Apple has defended its restrictions by touting quality, convenience, and security. Apps sold outside the App Store could be more vulnerable to security and compatibility issues, as the company has no way of certifying content marketed on third-party storefronts.

Critics have suggested that prices may be artificially inflated as a result of this walled garden approach, and that Apple is more interested in retaining its 30 percent cut of App Store revenue — barring longterm subscriptions — than it is in protecting consumers. The company is also known to occasionally block apps or features that compete with its own, or include what it considers objectionable content, even though that material is readily available on other major platforms.

According to the law firm representing the original complainants, the "obvious solution is to compel Apple to let people shop for applications wherever they want, which would open the market and help lower prices." Alternatively, Apple could pay out damages for "higher than competitive prices" customers were required to pay becuase Apple utilized an alleged monopoly.