Time to Act: DOJ E-Book Settlement Comment Period Underway

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As Bookselling This Week arrives in your inbox, there are 39 days left for booksellers to submit a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) expressing their opinions about the proposed settlement with three of the five publishers involved in DOJ’s civil suit regarding the agency model.

On April 11, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a civil suit against Apple and five major publishers with agency model pricing for e-books. In announcing the civil suit, DOJ also announced that Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Hachette had settled with the government. While denying that they had violated antitrust laws and while defending the agency model, the three publishers agreed that they would no longer employ the agency model for e-books for two years. Apple, Macmillan, and Penguin have stated that they intend to vigorously fight the civil suit.

Federal legislation — specifically, the Antitrust Penalties and Procedures Act (often referred to as the “Tunney Act,” after the law’s sponsor, former California Senator John Tunney) — provides a crucial opportunity for booksellers to make their views known to the federal court regarding the proposed settlement. (ABA CEO Oren Teicher recently e-mailed member booksellers about the opportunity for public comments.)

The settlement must be approved by the court, but, before that can happen, the Tunney Act requires DOJ to accept comments from the public, to publish the comments, and to submit a written summary of the comments to the federal court charged with considering approval. A federal judge will then determine whether the remedy being proposed is “in the public interest.”

“This is our moment to speak out,” said ABA CEO Oren Teicher. “The provisions of the Tunney Act allow us to communicate directly to the court and to share our belief as business owners that the agency model is an appropriate — and legal — business model that has helped make the market for e-books more competitive and more diverse. It has helped evolve a market in which one national online retailer held a monopoly into one in which many retailers are competing for e-book customers. The remedy proposed by the Department of Justice is almost certain to return us to a market controlled by one retailer, and, in the long run, such situations are never good for customers. A number of booksellers have shared their letters with ABA, and if you have already written DOJ, your colleagues thank you. But if you have not yet written I strongly urge you to write today.”

Booksellers’ comments should go to:

John Read
Chief, Litigation III Section
Antitrust Division
U.S. Department of Justice
450 5th Street, NW, Suite 4000
Washington, DC 20530

It would be helpful if booksellers would send a copy of those comments to DanCullen so that ABA can also track what is being said about the proposed consent decree.

The comment period extends for 60 days, and the deadline for submitting comments is Monday, June 25.