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Apple colluded with book publishers on e-book prices, judge rules

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Apple violated antitrust laws when it colluded with publishers to set prices of ebooks, a U.S. district court judge has ruled. Apple has vowed to appeal the case.

Read more on the court’s ruling against Apple on Macworld.com.

“The plaintiffs have shown that the publisher defendants conspired with each other to eliminate retail price competition in order to raise ebook prices, and that Apple played a central role in facilitating and executing that conspiracy,” wrote Judge Denise Cote of U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, in a 160-page ruling issued Wednesday. “Without Apple’s orchestration of this conspiracy, it would not have succeeded as it did in the spring of 2010.”

As a result, Apple and the publishers violated Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, the judge ruled. Cote’s ruling comes less than three weeks from the trial’s closing arguments.

“Companies cannot ignore the antitrust laws when they believe it is in their economic self-interest to do so. This decision by the court is a critical step in undoing the harm caused by Apple’s illegal actions,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement issued Wednesday.

Apple has pledged to fight the ruling.

“Apple did not conspire to fix ebook pricing and we will continue to fight against these false accusations,” a statement from Apple read. “When we introduced the iBookstore in 2010, we gave customers more choice, injecting much needed innovation and competition into the market, breaking Amazon’s monopolistic grip on the publishing industry. We’ve done nothing wrong and we will appeal the judge’s decision.”

In 2012, the DOJ brought a lawsuit charging that Apple and five of the largest book publishers in the U.S. conspired to raise prices in the ebook market in 2010, in an effort to stop Amazon from pricing their best-selling electronic books at $9.99.

In 2010, Apple had signed deals with five of the six largest book publishers—Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster—to sell electronic books in an agency model. Under such an agreement, the publishers would set the prices of ebooks, chosen from a set of pricing tiers Apple formulated. Apple got a fixed 30 percent cut of each sale through its iBookstore, which would debut on the about-to-be-launched iPad.

Apple also stipulated that publishers would give Apple “Most Favored Nation” pricing, which would guarantee that the publishers would sell ebooks to Apple at a wholesale rate of 70 percent of the lowest retail price of that book, thereby guaranteeing that Apple could offer the books at the same cost of its competitors.

Immediately after the contracts took effect in April 2010, and publishers moved all their retailers to the agency model and prices of ebooks offered by both Amazon and Barnes & Noble increased almost immediately.

“Apple executives hoped to ensure that its ebook business would be free from retail price competition, causing consumers throughout the country to pay higher prices for many ebooks. The evidence showed that the prices of the conspiring publishers’ ebooks increased by an average of 18 percent as a result of the collusive effort led by Apple,” the DOJ stated.

The five publishers have already settled out of court prior to the trial, which began on June 3. The court will schedule a hearing to address the proposed remedies for the infraction.

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