Apple's e-books hit with EU antitrust probe

Apple is accused of operating a cartel with five other e-publishers

The European Union's antitrust regulator said Tuesday that it is investigating whether Apple has operated a cartel with five other e-book publishers and engaged in other restrictive business practices banned under E.U. law.

These companies, in several different member states, are alleged to have engaged in illegal agreements or practices that have restricted competition in the E.U. e-books market. The European Commission is also examining the character and terms of "agency agreements" entered into by Hachette Livre, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck for the sale of e-books.

"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 defense," said the Commission.

The U.K. Office of Fair Trading (OFT) had also opened an investigation into the alleged e-books cartel, but under E.U. laws the European Commission's investigation now takes precedence. The OFT has therefore closed its own investigation and is working closely with the Commission. "The OFT has made a substantial contribution to the e-books investigation and will continue to cooperate closely with the Commission," said the Commission.

National courts must avoid giving decisions on this issue while the investigation is ongoing, however there is no legal deadline for completion of inquiries.

The investigation follows unannounced raids by the regulators at the premises of several e-book publishers in March.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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Jennifer Baker

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