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Play Store class action has £15m budget for defeating Google in London court

Detail emerges on who's funding it ... and for how much

Google has partly won a legal bid to uncover the budget behind a not-quite-class-action lawsuit pursuing it for £920m in Britain's Competition Appeal Tribunal.

Revealing that Elizabeth Coll's lawyers have £15.4m with which to take on the world's biggest adtech firm, judges dismissed Google's attempt to reveal how much the class-action group would have to pay those lawyers if they win.

The decision sheds a little more light on the world of for-profit litigation in London against mostly US-based Big Tech firms.

Coll's underlying case is broadly a mirror of Epic Games' lawsuit against Google over the Android giant's 30 per cent cut of app revenues which it takes from user payments made in Google Play Store apps. She is the public face of a lawsuit aimed at squeezing £920m out of Google for alleged anticompetitive behaviour and is suing in the name of 19 million UK-based Android users. Such lawsuits are increasingly common in the UK at the moment.

As summarised by Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) judges Bridget Lucas QC, Tim Frazer and Professor Michael Waterson, Google argued, unsuccessfully, that:

… success fees are particularly significant because they are payable only out of undistributed damages. [Google] maintain that there is therefore a potential conflict of interest between [Coll] and class members, on the one hand, and [Coll]'s lawyers on the other on the basis that there is an incentive for [Coll]'s lawyers to ensure that there is a sufficient pot of undistributed damages so that the success fees are paid in full.

The CAT dismissed Google's application to be given sight of Coll's lawyers' after-the-event insurance premiums and the precise level of the lawyers' success fees. Disclosure, said the CAT, would give Google an unfair advantage in the case.

All the current UK group litigation cases against Big Tech are brought on the basis that the commercial funder can make tens or hundreds of millions of pounds in profits from the damages. If they win, a hefty cut of those damages is taken by the lawyers as a success fee. Whatever's left after the backer and lawyers take their cut gets divided between the people allegedly wronged.

First data protection, now competition law

Google's application in this case followed a similar legal line of thinking in the old Lloyd v Google "Safari Workaround" sueball, where at an early stage Google's barrister spelled out exactly which for-profit litigation funder was behind the case and how much it was attempting to claim from the adtech monolith.

Ultimately Lloyd and backer Therium Litigation Funding IC failed in the Supreme Court, which set a gate-shutting precedent making it much harder for profit-making litigation funders to use UK data protection law against foreign-headquartered companies.

Fans of these group litigation cases say they're the only way for ordinary people to receive damages as a result of abuses by Big Tech; so they say, governmental fines merely enrich the Treasury instead of properly compensating folk who were wronged. One well-known commercial litigation funder, Therium, was behind the Post Office civil lawsuit over the state-owned company's abuses of the criminal law in punishing innocent staffers for the failures of its Fujitsu-made Horizon stocktaking system.

Opponents say it is morally wrong for profit-making litigation funders to state they're fighting for oppressed common people's rights when in reality they're hoping to make a profit for investors; famously, the subpostmasters in the Post Office Trial received an £11.5m portion of the £57.75m settlement to share between 550 claimants. In the meantime the CAT is filling up with cases based on section 47B of the Competition Act 1998.

Coll is yet to be certified as the formal Class Representative in Coll v Google, which is still at an early procedural stage. The case continues. ®

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