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Electronic Book Industry Probed by U.S. Over Possible Antitrust Violations

The U.S. is probing the possibility of anticompetitive practices in the e-book industry, the acting chief of the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division told a House committee in Washington.

“We’re also investigating the electronic book industry along with the European Commission and state attorneys general,” Sharis Pozen today told the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, where she appeared for a general oversight hearing.

European antitrust regulators are probing whether Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s pricing deals with publishers restrict competition, according to a statement from the European Union yesterday. They are investigating arrangements with five e-book publishers and publishers’ deals with retailers, the commission said.

The publishers are Lagardere SCA (MMB)’s Hachette Livre, News Corp.’s HarperCollins, CBS Corp. (CBS)’s Simon & Schuster, Pearson Plc (PSON)’s Penguin and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH’s Macmillan division.

Hachette’s e-book pricing method “not only better serves our authors and customers, it has also helped to increase competition and consumer choice,” Sophie Cottrell, a company spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

An Apple spokesman, Steve Dowling, declined to comment on Pozen’s remarks.

Company Cooperation

Adam Rothberg, a spokesman for Simon & Schuster, and Erin Crum, a Harper Collins spokeswoman, said their companies are cooperating with the Justice Department investigation.

Wendy Spiegel, a spokeswoman for Pearson North America, didn’t immediately reply to a phone message seeking comment. Macmillan USA officials didn’t respond immediately to an e-mail seeking comment.

EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said last month that he wanted to fight “artificial restrictions imposed by some companies to cross-border trade” and was examining the way e-books are distributed.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jeff Bliss in Washington at jbliss@bloomberg.net; Sara Forden in Washington at sforden@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net; Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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