Booksellers, Authors Back Apple in Ebook Price Fixing Appeal

Authors and book retailers stepped up to the plate and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling saying Apple was the ring leader in a conspiracy with publishers to artificially raise the price of books. Barnes & Noble, the American Booksellers Association, Authors United, and the Authors Guild teamed up on the filing and said the Department of Justice should focus on Amazon's antitrust practices instead.

Authors and booksellers file friend of the court briefing for Apple in ebook conspiracy caseThe Department of Justice took Apple to court over accusations that the iPhone and iPad maker engaged in an anticompetitive conspiracy with book publishers ahead of the original iPad launch to drive up ebook prices. At the time, Apple was trying to get deals in place for its iBookstore, and publishers were trying to stop Amazon from selling books below cost which was driving other resellers out of business.

Apple says the deals it struck with publishers were all independent and that there was no conspiracy. Publishers said they were already working on changing selling practices before Apple approached them.

That isn't, however, the way Judge Denise Cote saw things. She sided with the DOJ in 2010 and placed a court appointed monitor in the company to ensure that Apple didn't violate antitrust laws again. The publishers named in the DOJ lawsuit all settled out of court to avoid the possibility of crippling fines.

Apple latest appeal in the case failed, leaving the Supreme Court as its final hope for overturning Judge Cote's ruling.

Authors Guild Executive Director Mary Rasenberger said,

We fundamentally question the wisdom of the Second Circuit's use of antitrust law to punish a business arrangement that demonstrably increased competition in the e-book marketplace.

Apple and publishers were trying to break through Amazon's control over the ebook market in hopes being able to compete on fair ground instead jumping into an unfair game where everyone has to sell at a loss.

The amicus brief, or friend of the court filing, called the DOJ's focus on Apple "misplaced," according to Publisher's Weekly, and goes on to say that failing to overturn the lower court's ruling will "threaten to undermine the very objective of antitrust law—to ensure robust competition."

The Supreme Court isn't required to hear Apple's case, and if it chooses not to the lower court ruling stands. If it does take on the case, Apple has one last chance for vindication. The company has continued to assert it did nothing wrong and wasn't part of any conspiracy.

The brief also called out Amazon for controlling 90 percent of the market, placing it in a position to "suppress specific publishers, authors, or messages with which it disagreed, with impunity."

Ms. Rasenberger summed up the group's feelings saying, "Freedom and diversity of expression inevitably wither in a book market heavily controlled by a single player."

The Supreme Court has not yet decided if it will hear Apple's case. Considering that Judge Cote's ruling amounts to government approval of an Amazon monopoly in the book market, it would be nice to see the court take on the case.

Apple hasn't commented on the bookseller and author's amicus brief.