Australian watchdog considers suing Apple again, this time over e-book price fixing

Australian watchdog considers suing Apple again, this time over e-book price fixing

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is said to be considering taking action against Apple for the second time in a month, over allegations that the Cupertino-based technology giant has engaged in price-fixing with titles in its iBookstore.

The ACCC has urged retailers to formally raise the issue as it considers following a move by the US Justice Department (DoJ), where the US government issued legal proceedings against Apple and five of the world’s biggest book publishers, reports the AFR.

Yesterday, the DoJ proceeded with lawsuits against Apple, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster and Penguin, accusing them of working together in order to fix ebook prices and restrict the dominance of online retail giant Amazon (and also Barnes & Noble).

Within hours of the announcement, three publishers we reported to have settled, fearing a long and expensive legal fight.

The DoJ has been investigating whether Apple’s deals with the publishers when it launched the iPad in 2010 amount to price-rigging.

In an interview with biographer Walter Isaacson, the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said the company would switch to an “agency model”, which would mean publishers and not retailers get to set book prices. This is the opposite of a “wholesale model”, which is what the United States government would prefer to have in place.

The Australian watchdog says it is aware of the lawsuit in the US and whilst it can’t comment on the status of its own investigation, it released the following statement:

“The ACCC has previously stated that impediments to emerging competition involving online traders is an area of priority,” an ACCC spokesman said.

“Competition concerns may arise where traders seek to restrict the discounting of products by way of restrictive arrangements with suppliers. Retailers with concerns should raise them with the ACCC.”

This isn’t the first time Apple has appeared on the ACCC’s radar. Just last month, the regulator took action against the Cupertino-based technology giant for “misleading” consumers over the tablets ability to connect to a 4G mobile data network.

It took issue with the product “iPad with WiFi + 4G” because it “represents to Australian consumers that the product, with a SIM card, [can] connect to a 4G mobile data network in Australia, when this is not the case.”

Apple complied with some of the ACCC’s recommendations, amending its website listings and in-store signage but also emailing customers notifying that they would be entitled to a refund because the iPad was not compatible with 4G networks in the country.

If action is to be taken against Apple in Australia and it is successful, consumers that purchased iBooks could be entitled to partial refunds for the titles that they bought via the iBookStore over the past two years.

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