EC targets Apple in ebooks probe

6 Dec 2011
iPad ebooks

Ebook pricing comes under fire by European regulators

Apple and five publishers are being formally investigated by the European Commission over ebook prices.

The EC said it was examining whether five publishers have "possibly, with the help of Apple, engaged in anti-competitive practices affecting the sale of ebooks" in Europe.

"The opening of proceedings means that the Commission will treat the case as a matter of priority," it added, saying it was unclear how long the investigation would take.

Aside from Apple, the investigation will target Penguin, part of Pearson Group in the UK, as well as Hachette Livre, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck in Germany.

The opening of proceedings means that the Commission will treat the case as a matter of priority

"The Commission will in particular investigate whether these publishing groups and Apple have engaged in illegal agreements or practices that would have the object or the effect of restricting competition in the EU or in the EEA," it said. "The Commission is also examining the character and terms of the agency agreements entered into by the above named five publishers and retailers for the sale of ebooks."

In March, the Commission raided several unnamed ebook firms, while the Office of Fair Trading in the UK started its own investigation into ebook prices in February. The OFT and EC had been working together on the probe, but the UK body will now shut its investigation down.

"Penguin has taken note of today’s announcements by the EU Commission and the UK Office of Fair Trading related to the publishing of ebooks," the UK publisher said in a statement sent to PC Pro. "Penguin welcomes the OFT’s decision to close its investigation."

"As the EU Commission said, the fact that it has initiated proceedings does not prejudge the outcome of its investigation," it added. "Penguin does not believe it has breached any laws, and will continue to fully and openly cooperate with the Commission."

Apple has yet to reply for request for comment.

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