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Antitrust Law

Judge Approves E-Book Price-Fixing Settlement, Quotes Emily Dickinson Poem

Posted Sep 6, 2012 3:04 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal judge has approved a price-fixing settlement between the U.S. Justice Department and three electronic book publishers in an opinion (PDF) that quotes Emily Dickinson.

U.S. District Judge Denise Cote found the settlement is in the public interest. The settling defendants are HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and the Hachette Book Group, according to stories by PaidContent.org, Bloomberg News and Digital Book World.

The case is still pending against Apple and two other publishers. The U.S. Justice Department had alleged the defendants conspired to force Amazon.com to abandon pricing of $9.99 for newly released and best-selling books. Critics of the proposed settlement, however, had claimed Amazon's low prices were killing off competition and allowing it to gain market share.

The deal approved by Cote requires the publishers to end contracts with e-book retailers that limit retailers' ability to set prices. Publishers may, however, enter into contracts barring retailers from selling a defendant’s books at a cumulative loss over the course of a year.

PaidContent.org calls the decision a “surprise ruling” and notes that Cote cited Emily Dickinson. Cote said there is no denying the importance of books and quoted the poem that begins, “There is no Frigate like a Book/To take us Lands away.”

She ruled a day after a lawyer who opposed the settlement filed an amicus brief in the form of a comic strip. Bob Kohn said he opted for the unusual format after Cote limited his brief to five pages. Cote didn’t mention the unusual format, but did address Kohn’s “detailed public comments” in her opinion.

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