Judge: Evidence shows Apple colluded to fix e-book prices

In a pretrial hearing for the antitrust lawsuit, a judge says the Justice Department will be able to show direct evidence that Apple "facilitated a conspiracy to raise prices of e-books."

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

Pressure seems to be mounting for Apple in the e-book lawsuit brought against it and five publishers by the U.S. Justice Department.

With less than two weeks before the trial is set to start, the judge presiding over the case said Thursday she thinks evidence will establish that Apple indeed colluded with the publishers to fix e-book prices, according to Reuters.

"I believe that the government will be able to show at trial direct evidence that Apple knowingly participated in and facilitated a conspiracy to raise prices of e-books, and that the circumstantial evidence in this case, including the terms of the agreements, will confirm that," U.S. District Judge Denise Cote said during a pretrial hearing, according to Reuters.

Cote did say her viewpoint was "tentative" and that she was basing it only on the evidence she had examined so far, which includes e-mails and correspondence from December 2009 to January 2010, according to Reuters. She also said no final decision would be made until after the trial.

The Justice Department filed the antitrust lawsuit against Apple and the five publishers in April 2012. The government is accusing Apple and five book publishers of conspiring to illegally fix e-book prices to boost profits and force e-book rival Amazon to abandon its discount pricing.

All five of the publishers involved -- Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Simon & Schuster (owned by CBS, which publishes CNET), Macmillan Publishers, and Penguin Group -- have now settled. The most recent publisher to fully settle was Penguin who agreed to pay $75 million on Wednesday to bring an end to the long-running complaints brought by many states and private class plaintiffs.

With Apple being the last company standing in the lawsuit, it is most likely feeling pressure to settle too. However, the iPad-maker has maintained it didn't take part in any wrongdoing and that no collusion with the book publishers took place.

"We strongly disagree with the court's preliminary statements about the case today," Apple lawyer Orin Snyder said, according to Reuters. "We look forward to presenting our evidence in open court and proving that Apple did not conspire to fix prices."

Judge Cote ruled in March that Apple CEO Tim Cook must testify in the case if it goes to court. Currently, the trial is set to start on June 3.

CNET contacted Apple for comment. We'll update the story when we get more information.