The European Commission has opened formal antitrust proceedings to investigate whether five international publishers (Hacette Livre, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Macmillan) engaged in anti-competitive, illegal agreements for the sale of e-books. The focus of the enquiry appears to be whether there has been any form of collusion over contractual terms used by publishers with retailers. In particular, the inquiry centres on the terms of the agency arrangement commonly used. Apple’s possible involvement in the alleged arrangements is also the subject of inquiry.
The initiation of proceedings follows the unannounced inspections carried out by the Commission at the premises of several e-publishing companies across Europe in March 2011. The opening of formal proceedings does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation but rather signals that it is giving priority to the case. The Office of Fair Trading has been carrying out its own investigations into the sector but with the announcement of the Commission’s investigation, it has decided to drop its probe into e-books to allow the Commission to lead. A similar investigation is being carried out in the US by the Department of Justice.