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Attorney General Eric Holder: ‘DOJ is committed to ensuring that eBooks are as affordable as possible.’

Attorney general Eric Holder addressed the Department of Justice’s eBook investigation in a speech this afternoon, declaring the government agency is “committed to ensuring that eBooks are as affordable as possible.”

We have excerpted his complete remarks below. Here is an excerpt:

In response to our allegations, three of these publishers – Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster – agreed to a proposed settlement.  If approved by the court, this settlement would resolve the Department’s antitrust concerns with these companies, and would require them to grant retailers – such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble – the freedom to reduce the prices of their e-book titles.  The settlement also requires the companies to terminate their anticompetitive most-favored-nation agreements with Apple and other e-books retailers.

In addition, the companies will be prohibited for two years from placing constraints on retailers’ ability to offer discounts to consumers.  They will also be prohibited from conspiring or sharing competitively sensitive information with their competitors for five years.  And each is required to implement a strong antitrust compliance program.  These steps are appropriate – and essential in ensuring a competitive marketplace.

Attorney general Eric Holder’s Remarks on DOJ’s eBook Investigation

Good afternoon.  Today I’m joined by Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division Sharis Pozen, and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, to announce the Justice Department’s latest progress in protecting American consumers from anticompetitive harm, ensuring fairness in the marketplace, and making certain that cutting-edge technologies are available at the lowest possible price.

In recent years, we have seen the rapid growth – and the many benefits – of electronic books.  E-books are transforming our daily lives, and improving how information and content is shared.  For the growing number of Americans who want to take advantage of this new technology, the Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that e-books are as affordable as possible.

As part of this commitment, the Department has reached a settlement with three of the nation’s largest book publishers – and will continue to litigate against Apple, and two additional leading publishers – for conspiring to increase the prices that consumers pay for e-books.

Earlier today, we filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, against Apple and five different book publishers – Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster.  In response to our allegations, three of these publishers – Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster – agreed to a proposed settlement.  If approved by the court, this settlement would resolve the Department’s antitrust concerns with these companies, and would require them to grant retailers – such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble – the freedom to reduce the prices of their e-book titles.  The settlement also requires the companies to terminate their anticompetitive most-favored-nation agreements with Apple and other e-books retailers.

In addition, the companies will be prohibited for two years from placing constraints on retailers’ ability to offer discounts to consumers.  They will also be prohibited from conspiring or sharing competitively sensitive information with their competitors for five years.  And each is required to implement a strong antitrust compliance program.  These steps are appropriate – and essential in ensuring a competitive marketplace.

Beginning in the summer of 2009, we allege that executives at the highest levels of the companies included in today’s lawsuit – concerned that e-book sellers had reduced prices – worked together to eliminate competition among stores selling e-books, ultimately increasing prices for consumers.  As a result of this alleged conspiracy, we believe that consumers paid millions of dollars more for some of the most popular titles.

During regular, near-quarterly meetings, we allege that publishing company executives discussed confidential business and competitive matters – including Amazon’s e-book retailing practices – as part of a conspiracy to raise, fix, and stabilize retail prices.  In addition, we allege that these publishers agreed to impose a new model which would enable them to seize pricing authority from bookstores; that they entered into agreements to pay Apple a 30 percent commission on books sold through its iBookstore; and that they promised – through contracts including most-favored-nation provisions – that no other e-book retailer would set a lower price.  Our investigation even revealed that one CEO allegedly went so far as to encourage an e-book retailer to punish another publisher for not engaging in these illegal practices.

In advancing this critical investigation, I’d like to thank Attorney General Jepsen and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott – along with our partners at the European Commission – for their hard work and close cooperation.  Today’s action sends a clear message that the Department’s Antitrust Division continues to be open for business – and that we will not hesitate to do what is necessary to protect American consumers.

I am grateful for the outstanding leadership that Acting Assistant Attorney General Sharis Pozen has provided in this matter.  Not only has she ensured a seamless transition in the Division’s senior leadership, she has proven that vigorous enforcement will remain its hallmark.  I also want to commend her dedicated team, and thank each of the attorneys and investigators who worked so hard to make today’s announcement possible.  Although this matter remains in its initial stages, it’s clear that, in all of you, the Department – and the American people – could have no stronger team of advocates.

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