The European Commission has opened formal antitrust proceedings to investigate whether international publishers have, possibly with the help of Apple, engaged in anti-competitive practices affecting the sale of e-books in the European Economic Area (EEA), in breach of EU antitrust rules.
The commission will in particular investigate whether publishing groupsm, including Hachette Livre (Lagardère Publishing, France), Harper Collins (News Corp., USA), Simon & Schuster (CBS Corp., USA), Penguin (Pearson Group, United Kingdom) and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck (owner of inter alia Macmillan, Germany), and Apple have engaged in illegal agreements or practices that would have the object or the effect of restricting competition in the European Uninin or in the EEA. 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 e-books. The commission has concerns, that these practices may breach EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices.
The EU's laws prohibit agreements and concerted practices which may affect trade and prevent or restrict competition. In March 2011, the commission carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of several companies active in the e-book publishing sector in several member. To date, the commission and the UK Office of Fair Trading have investigated in parallel and in close cooperation whether arrangements for the sale of e-books may breach competition rules. Before the commission opened formal proceedings, the OFT had closed its investigation on grounds of administrative priority. The OFT has made a substantial contribution to the ebooks investigation and will continue to co-operate closely with the commission going forward.
The opening of proceedings means that the commission will treat the case as a matter of priority. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation. The duration of antitrust investigations depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned cooperate with the commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.