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SC to hear appeals on Google Play issue on March 19, declines interim relief to startups

The startups had urged the court to direct Google to not remove their apps from the Play Store while the appeals were being heard.

The Supreme Court on February 12 agreed to hear the appeals filed by ten Indian startups in the Google Play billing policy matter, as reported by Bar and Bench. The startups last year challenged the new Google Play billing policy on various grounds but, the Madras High Court in January dismissed the complaints noting that the matter falls under the purview of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

The Supreme Court issued a notice to Google and listed the matter for hearing on March 19, but refused to provide interim relief to the startups in the meantime. The startups had asked the court to direct Google to not remove their apps from the Play Store while the appeals were being heard. With the court refusing to grant this, the startups turned to Google, asking it not to take any action while the matter is being heard. If Google does not agree, the apps belonging to the complainants must either comply with the new billing policy or risk being removed from the Play Store.

Timeline of key events

  • April 2023 – Matrimony.com approaches Madras HC and wins temporary injunction: Matrimony.com was the first company to challenge Google’s new billing policy in court. You can read the allegations made by the company in our summary of the petition here. The Madras HC prohibited Google from delisting the apps operated by Matrimony.com from the Play Store even if it is not in compliance with Google Play’s new billing policy. This injunction was initially valid until June 1, 2023.
  • June and July 2023 — More startups join the fight, temporary injunction extended: In June, eight more startups joined Matrimony.com in its fight against Google, and in July, five more startups joined. The court extended the interim injunction it had offered to Matrimony.com to all these startups, directing Google to not remove their apps. However, the companies were ordered to pay Google a 4 percent commission while the matter was being heard.
  • August 2023 — Single judge of Madras HC dismisses the petitions: A single judge of the court dismissed the petitions observing that the matter falls under the jurisdiction of the competition regulator and the RBI. The startups appealed this order.
  • January 2024 — Divison bench of Madras HC dismisses the petitions: A division bench of the high court upheld the single judge order and dismissed the petitions as well. The court, however, allowed the earlier interim protection that prohibited Google from delisting the apps to continue for 3 more weeks. The startups filed an appeal at the Supreme Court.
  • February 09, 2024 — The interim protection ends: The interim protection offered by the Madras HC ended on February 9, thus allowing Google to remove the apps of the complainants if they are found violating the company’s billing policy. Google has, however, not yet taken any such action.
  • February 12, 2024 — Supreme Court agrees to hear the appeals, denies interim relief: The Supreme Court accepts the appeals, issuing notice to Google and setting the next date of hearing as March 19. It, however, refused to provide interim protection to the startups, thus allowing Google to delist the apps of the complainants from the Play Store if it wanted to.

CCI probe into Google Play

Separately, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) is also probing Google Play’s billing policy. The competition regulator issued an antitrust order in October 2022, in response to which Google came up with the new billing policy. However after developers complained that the billing policy was not in compliance with the antitrust order, CCI decided to look into the matter. The current status of this probe is not known.

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