European Commission opens formal investigation into sale of e-books

The European Commission has announced it has opened formal antitrust proceedings to investigate whether publishers Hachette Livre, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Holtzbrinck "have, possibly with the help of Apple, engaged in anti-competitive practices affecting the sale of e-books in the European Economic Area, in breach of EU antitrust rules".

The opening of proceedings means that the Commission will treat the case as a matter of priority, it said, adding that this did not prejudge the investigation's outcome.

The Commission said it would investigate whether publishers and Apple had engaged in illegal agreements or practices that would restrict competition,and would also examine "the character and terms of the agency agreements entered into by the above named five publishers and retailers for the sale of e-books", with "concerns that these practices may breach EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices".

The move follows the launch by the Commission of an inquiry into publisher e-book sales last spring.

Meantime the Office of Fair Trading is closing its own investigation into e-book sales, also believed to be focusing on the use of the agency model and launched in January.

The OFT said the decision to close the investigation had been made "because the OFT believes, following discussions with the European Commission, that the European Commission is currently well placed to arrive at a comprehensive resolution of this matter and will do so as a matter of priority."

The OFT said it will "continue to cooperate closely with the European Commission on this matter to help secure the best outcome for UK consumers" and that it may reconsider its decision to close its own investigation if it has "reasonable grounds" in the future to suspect that there is an infringement of competition law.

 "The OFT has not reached any view as to whether or not the parties involved have infringed competition law," it stated.