March 13, 2013 11:32 pm

Apple’s Cook to testify in ebooks case

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Tim Cook©Bloomberg

Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, has been ordered to testify in a lawsuit brought by the US government against alleged price-fixing in the ebook market.

Judge Denise Cote granted the Justice Department’s request in a Manhattan court on Wednesday that Mr Cook must attend a deposition.

Apple has been accused of conspiring with five book publishers to raise prices of digital versions.

The maker of the iPad is the last man standing in the case. The five media companies – Penguin Group, owned by Pearson, which also owns the Financial Times; News Corp’s HarperCollins; CBS’s Simon & Schuster; Hachette; and MacMillan – have all settled.

In a letter to the judge on Monday, Apple opposed the government’s motion compelling a deposition from Mr Cook.

It said the government was ignoring the legal standards that Mr Cook had no unique personal knowledge of the relevant facts, lower-level executives could provide the same information and the Justice Department had not exhausted alternative information sources.

In an attached declaration, Mr Cook said he had no unique knowledge about Apple’s decision to enter the eBooks market and recalled no relevant private conversations with his predecessor, Steve Jobs, who died in 2011.

Apple had produced 3.6m pages of documents and the publishers nearly 5m, the letter said, compared to a handful of emails as exhibits from the government. This only underscored “Mr Cook’s tangential role as an outsider to the issues in dispute in this case”.

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A trial is expected in June and the government is seeking a ruling that Apple violated antitrust law rather than damages.

The Reuters news agency reported that Apple accused the government of a “fishing expedition” in trying to get Mr Cook to testify, during a teleconference on Wednesday.

But justice department lawyers argued that Mr Cook probably had conversations with Jobs about ebooks because of his “position and closeness to him”.

“It means Mr Cook is the only potential source of information,” they said.

Judge Cote accepted the government’s reasons for needing the testimony and granted its application for a deposition. The judge cited the death of Jobs as a main reason for granting the request.

“Because of that loss, I think the government is entitled to take testimony from high-level executives within Apple about topics relevant to the government case,” she said.

Macmillan was the last of the publishers to reach a settlement in February this year. John Sargent, chief executive, said the company had done no wrong but was forced to settle because the financial risks of losing the case would have been crippling.

The case was originally filed in April 2012.

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