U.S. Justice Dept. is Investigating Publishers, Possibly Apple in Ebook Price Fixing Case

Posted on December 9, 2011

The European Union is investigating allegations of antitrust violations and ebook price fixing between five major publishers and Apple. Now, the U.S. is following suit.

The L.A. Times reports that the U.S. Justice Department is investigating price fixing allegations regarding ebooks. Unlike the EU, the the Justice Department hasn't issued a press release explaining who they are going after. The L.A. Times says that at a Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington this week, the acting assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's antitrust division, did say that her agency is investigating the electronic book industry. But that's all she would say.

The L.A. Times contacted the Justice Department and managed to get a spokeswoman to confirm that the investigation involves allegations of "anticompetitive practices involving e-book sales." That sounds like the Justice Department has taken notice of the EU's investigation.

The most likely targets of the probe are the same defendants in the EU investigation: Apple, Inc., Hachette Livre (Lagardere Publishing, France), Harper Collins (News Corp., USA), Simon & Schuster (CBS Corp., USA), Penguin (Pearson Group, United Kingdom) and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck (owner of inter alia Macmillan, Germany). It's likely that investigators will also look at Amazon.com as part of determining how ebook prices are set and if those actions hurt consumers. The Times says that state attorneys general are getting into the act: Connecticut and Texas may enter the fray and launch their own investigations.