EU Antitrust Authority Probes Apple, E-Book Publishers

The European antitrust authority is investigating Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and five e-book publishers over deals that may restrict sales in the region.

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The European Commission announced today that it had opened a formal probe to examine whether Apple may have helped publishers engage in “anti-competitive practices affecting the sale of e-books,” in violation of Europe’s competition rules.

The commission said it was “examining the character and terms of the agency agreements entered into” by the publishers — which include Lagardere’s Hachette Livre, Harper Collins (NASDAQ:NWSA), Simon & Schuster (NYSE:CBS), Penguin (NYSE:PSO), and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH — and e-book retailers like Apple.

“The commission has concerns, that these practices may breach EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices,” the EU said in a statement.

EU regulators raided e-book publishers back in March as part of the ongoing investigation. The commission said that by formally opening the investigation, it can now treat the case as a “matter of priority.”

Britain’s Office of Fair Trading, which opened its own investigation in February, said in a statement on its website today that it would drop its probe to allow EU officials to take the lead.

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The commission can fine companies found to have breached competition rules up to 10 percent of their global annual sales, and can require them to change their business practices.

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