Apple investigated by EU over e-book pricing

The iPad maker is being investigated by the European Commission over concerns that it formed a cartel with five publishers over the sale of e-books
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor on

Apple and five publishers are being formally investigated by the European Commission over e-book antitrust allegations.

The Commission is investigating whether Apple worked with the five publishers to form a cartel over e-book sales, and whether they engaged in restrictive business practices. The publishers Hachette Livre, HarperCollins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck are all being scrutinised alongside Apple.

"The Commission has concerns the publishers may have colluded to raise the price of e-books and that Apple may have facilitated this," Commission competition spokeswoman Amelia Torres told ZDNet UK on Tuesday. "We are starting a formal investigation. This does not prejudge the final outcome."

Torres declined to say which concerns the Commission had over Apple's practices or technology. Apple's iBooks application is available for Apple devices such as the iPad 2 and the iPhone.

The Commission's formal investigation proceedings follow a number of surprise inspections carried out by Commission officials in March, according to a Commission statement.

The UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) shared similar concerns with the European Commission, and was running a parallel probe into Apple over e-books. The OFT closed its investigation before the formal Commission proceedings opened, but may reopen the probe if its concerns are not met by the Commission, an OFT spokeswoman told ZDNet UK on Tuesday.

"We closed the investigation on administrative grounds," said the spokeswoman. "During the course of the investigation, it became clear the Commission is well placed to address matters."

Simon & Schuster shares the same parent company as ZDNet UK: CBS Corp, a US company. HarperCollins is part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, a US corporation. Penguin is part of Pearson Group, of the UK. Hachette Livre is owned by Lagardère Publishing, France. The German company Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck owns UK publisher Macmillan.

Apple has not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

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