DOJ files e-book price fixing lawsuit against Apple

The agency is expected to provide more details on the lawsuit at a briefing Wednesday

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple and five book publishers for alleged e-book price fixing the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

The DOJ has issued a media alert saying it plans an announcement on a "significant antitrust matter" at noon local time. Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen will be one of the officials at the press conference. Jepsen and his predecessor have been investigating e-book pricing since mid-2010.

The European Union launched its own investigation of e-book pricing in December. That same month, a DOJ official said her agency was investigating e-book price fixing.

Critics have accused Apple, HarperCollins Publishers, Hachette Book Group, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Group and Simon & Schuster of working together to raise e-book prices in response to a discounted pricing strategy from Amazon.com.

A lawsuit seeking class-action status filed by Seattle law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro in August accuses Apple of working with the publishers to raise e-book prices because publishers were concerned that Amazon.com's discounted pricing would permanently set customer expectations for lower prices.Before early 2010, e-book prices at Amazon.com were routinely US$9.99 or lower, the lawsuit alleged. Now, many top sellers are $12.99 and up, with higher costs for e-books than for paper books.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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