In e-books trial,US says Apple conspired with publishers

Under scanner: Complaints by Amazon are believed to have incited the investigation

Written by Reuters | New York | Published: June 4, 2013 1:44:21 am

Apple Inc conspired with publishers to raise the price of e-books in a scheme costing consumers “hundreds of millions of dollars,” a US government lawyer said Monday.

A three-week trial got under way before a federal judge in New York in a case pitting the Justice Department against the popular iPad and iPhone maker that could shine a light on the secretive Silicon Valley giant’s business practices.

“Apple told publishers that Apple — and only Apple — could get prices up in their industry,” Lawrence Buterman,a lawyer at the Justice Department,said during opening arguments.

The trial came more than a year after the Justice Department sued Apple and five of the largest US publishing houses,accusing them of working together illegally to increase e-book prices and undo Amazon.com Inc’s market control.

Orin Snyder,an attorney for Apple,described the case as “bizarre.” Apple acted in its own business interests in negotiating deals with publishers in the run up to the debut of its iPad in January 2010,he said.

“What the government wants to do is reverse engineer a conspiracy from a market effect,” Snyder said.

Apple is going to trial alone after the five publishers agreed to eliminate prohibitions on wholesale discounts and to pay a collective $164 million to benefit consumers.

The five publishers were Pearson Plc’s Penguin Group,News Corp’s HarperCollins Publishers Inc,CBS Corp’s Simon & Schuster Inc,Hachette Book Group and MacMillan.

The US government is not seeking damages but instead an order blocking Apple from engaging in similar conduct. However,if Apple is found liable,it could still face damages in a separate trial by the state attorneys general,who would seek civil penalties on behalf of consumers.

The non-jury trial is proceeding before US District Judge Denise Cote,who gave a “tentative view” at the last hearing before trial that she thought the Justice Department might win.

“I believe that the government will be able to show at trial direct evidence that Apple knowingly participated in and facilitated a conspiracy to raise prices of e-books,” Cote said on May 23.

During opening arguments on Monday,Snyder expressed Apple’s “concern” about the comment,adding later,“all we want is a fair trial.” Cote retorted that she made her comments only after the Justice Department and Apple asked for her view,which was based on hundreds of documents submitted in advance of trial.

The case has its origins in concerns by publishers that had emerged by 2009 about low prices for best-seller and new e-books sold by Amazon,which launched its Kindle e-reader in 2007.

Apple of discord

* In the case,brought a year ago,the US Justice Department accused Apple and five book publishers of conspiring to raise e-book prices

* The five publishers were Pearson’s Penguin Group,News Corp’s HarperCollins Publishers,CBS Corp’s Simon & Schuster,Hachette Book Group and MacMillan

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