April 13, 2012 11:24 pm

Apple and four publishers in settlement talks with European Commission

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Competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia has received settlement offers from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and four publishers Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Hachette Livre and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck. Three of these publishers, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins and Hachette, reached a settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice (DoJ) this week.

Last December, the European Commission (EC) opened an antitrust investigation into e-book publishers Lagardere, Penguin (Pearson Plc (NYSE:PSO)), News Corp (NASDAQ:NWSA), CBS Corp. (NYSE:CBS) and Macmillan, alleging collusion with Apple on e-book pricing.

Almunia welcomed “the fact that these five companies are making proposals to reach an early resolution of the case, so promptly after we opened proceedings in December 2011”.

Penguin is understood by dealReporter to be the only of the six defendants in the EC’s probe which has not made proposals to settle.

“As we have stated before, we feel that we have followed the rules; we are cooperating fully and openly with the EC’s investigation, and as the investigation is still ongoing, we are not commenting further,” said a spokesperson for parent company Pearson.

dealReporter is a part of the Financial Times Group, also a Pearson company.

“We are currently engaged in fruitful discussions with [the settling companies], without prejudice to the outcome of these talks,” Almunia said.

“We will assess any final proposals of commitments and we will test them with third parties in order to check whether they are sufficient to preserve competition for the benefit of consumers in this fast-growing market.”

The EC’s proceedings have been carried out in close cooperation with the DoJ, which yesterday filed a suit against Apple and two other publishers, Holtzbrinck Publishers, which carries out business as Macmillan, and Penguin Group.

“I am happy that the very close and productive cooperation between the DoJ and the Commission has benefitted the investigations on both sides of the Atlantic,” Almunia said.

While it is true that the investigations by the two agencies across the Atlantic are particularly well coordinated, it would be premature to conclude that settlement with Apple or Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck in Europe is impossible, a source familiar with the process said.

It is understood that discussions with Apple and the four publishers in Europe are ongoing despite the developments in the US. It is early to say whether these discussions will lead to settlement, the source familiar noted.

Commissioner Almunia previously said that a settlement possibility was only open in case the publishers were ready to remove all EC’s concerns.

Harper Collins, and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck did not comment; Apple and Hachette Livre could not be reached for comment while Simon & Schuster’s spokesperson said they are “in active and productive discussions with the EC.”

by Evelina Kurgonaite in Brussels

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