DoJ defends controversial e-book suit

The Department of Justice has hit out at opponents of its e-book price-fixing case against Apple, saying that they are serving their own self-interest.

The suit alleges that Apple colluded with major book publishers to keep prices down in Apple’s iBookstore and fight off heavy discounting from Amazon.

The end result, they say, was to cause a price rise of up to 50 percent in ebooks when the iPad was launched. The book industry shifted wholesale to an agency model, with publishers setting prices to retailers, rather than allowing them to set their own.

Three of the publishers named in the suit – HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster – were quick to settle with the DoJ. However, Apple, along with Penguin USA and Macmillan, have continued to fight, and have the support of several smaller publishers.

Apple’s been told to renegotiate prices with publishers within seven days. However, it claims, there’s a danger that this will rile publishers so much that they could pull their books from the iBookstore altogether.

But the DoJ’s not buying this argument. After analyzing 868 public comments on the proposed settlement – the vast majority of which oppose it – it’s released its thoughts on the matter.

“Many critics of the settlements view the consequences of the conspiracy – higher prices – as serving their own self-interests, and they prefer that unfettered competition be replaced by industry collusion that places the welfare of certain firms over that of the public,” it says.

“That position is wholly at odds with the purposes of the federal antitrust laws – which were enacted to protect competition, not competitors.”

It wants Apple and the publishers to renegotiate contracts with retailers as soon as possible, and refrain from deals containing retail price restrictions and price commitment mechanisms for the next two years.