US Justice Dept confirms e-book industry probe

The US Justice Department has confirmed that it is conducting an investigation into the electronic book industry, a day after the European Commission announced a similar probe.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Sharis Pozen told a congressional panel that the Justice Department was "investigating the electronic book industry along with the European Commission and with states attorneys generals."

Pozen, the acting head of the antitrust division, did not provide any further details about the probe during a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the internet.

Her remarks came a day after European antitrust officials launched an investigation to determine whether iPad maker Apple and five international publishers struck illegal deals to fix the price of e-books in Europe.

The European Commission will look at deals between Apple and US publishing powerhouses Simon & Schuster and Harper Collins, Britain's Penguin, France's Hachette Livre and Germany's Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck.

Amelia Torres, the commission's competition spokeswoman, said the probe will see whether the agreements "had the objective or effect of restricting competition and fixing the price of e-books at a high level in Europe."

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to say when the US investigation began, but The Wall Street Journal reported it has been underway since last year.

The spokeswoman said Pozen's remarks were the first public confirmation that the department is investigating the possibility of anti-competitive practices in the e-book industry.

"It's an ongoing investigation," she said.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the state attorney generals of Texas and Connecticut are looking into the matter.

Apple is in a fierce battle over the growing e-reader market with US online retail giant Amazon, which launched a Kindle tablet computer in the United States in September costing US$199, half the price of the iPad.

Pearson, the group that owns Penguin publishing house, said that it "does not believe it has breached any laws, and will continue to fully and openly cooperate with the Commission."

Apple, Simon & Schuster and Harper Collins did not respond to AFP requests for comment on the European Commission probe. Hachette declined comment.

- AFP

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