US law firms target Apple and US publishers over e-books

Several US law firms have now filed lawsuits against Apple and major US publishers alleging what one described as a "horizontal conspiracy" to fix and increase the price of e-books in the US. One firm has also now moved for the lawsuits to be heard under one judge either in California, where two of the suits have been registered, or Manhattan, where three have been filed.

The suits were filed on or around 10th and 11th August, and follow closely the arguments laid before a San Francisco federal court by the US law firm Hagens Berman, which named Apple, along with Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster, over the agency model of e-book pricing.

The Washington-based law firm Finkelstein Thompson also names Random House among those publishers it accuses of implementing price-fixing agreements contemporaneously with Apple's introduction of the iPad in April 2010, while the other suits also list Barnes & Noble and Amazon as among the defendants.

According to the On The Case blog, there are now five separate actions pending in US courts in New York and California. As with Finkelstein law firm Lovell Steward Halebian Jacobson filed an action in a Manhattan federal court and also names Random House US as a defendant. On The Case also points to a third Manhattan federal e-books class action filed by Grant & Eisenhofer and Criden & Love, which features additional defendants—Amazon and Barnes & Noble. A fifth suit has also commenced in California filed by law firms Ram, Olson, Cereghino & Kopzynski and Spector Roseman Kodroff & Willis.

According to its own press statement Finkelstein Thompson has also moved the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to consolidate all similar class actions filed in other courts before Judge Daniels. According to On The Case, Berman of Hagens Berman is "bristling" to retain control over the e-book antitrust litigation. "I'm going to say that these guys are all copycats and don't deserve to be the lead," Berman told the legal blog.

Publishers Marketplace notes drily: "All told, the timing and similarity of these filings more strongly suggests a conspiracy among lawyers than there ever was among publishers."