John Paczkowski

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Apple: It’s Time to Close the Book on DOJ’s E-Book Case

Close_the_book_on_ebook_caseThe U.S. Department of Justice’s e-book price fixing case against Apple wrapped up Thursday with largely predictable closing arguments from Cupertino and the government both.

Summarizing Apple’s defense against the DOJ’s allegations of price-fixing and conspiracy, lead counsel Orin Snyder argued that the agency not only failed to meet its burden of proof, but overreached by seeking to prosecute Apple for legitimate business practices.

“Apple did not conspire with a single publisher to fix prices in the e-book industry,” Snyder said, arguing that the negotiations under scrutiny in this case were nothing more than “standard, lawful business activity.” And the DOJ’s claim that they were more than that, a nefarious plot over which Apple served as ringmaster, is entirely unsupported. “All of the government’s evidence is ambiguous at best,” Snyder argued, lambasting the DOJ’s case as one built on “word games and inferences.”

Apple didn’t force Amazon or anyone else to adopt an “agency” e-book pricing model where publishers, not retailers, set prices. Apple moved to further its own legitimate business goals, embracing an agency model that was already being mulled by Barnes & Noble and others. And publishers and retailers, and yes, even Amazon did just the same. Said Snyder, “Amazon changed its business model for prudent and intelligent business reasons.”

Apple-Closing-Final1In short, the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” prosecution the DOJ has been arguing the past few weeks is more theatrical smoke bomb than festering conflagration. And according to Snyder, accepting it as truth and ruling against Apple would be a decidedly bad move, sending a “a chilling and confounding effect not only on commerce, but through content markets across the country. … We submit a ruling against Apple on this record sets a dangerous precedent.”

The final slide in Snyder’s Keynote presentation: An iPad with the text “It’s time to close the book on this case.”

Hardly, the DOJ opined in closing arguments of its own, asserting as it has throughout the case that Apple conspired with a cabal of publishers to raise mainstream e-book pricing well above the $9.99 price point Amazon had established, thereby harming consumers. “This is an old-fashioned, straightforward price-fixing agreement,” said DOJ prosecutor Mark Ryan.

U.S. District Judge Denise Cote is expected to hand down a decision in the case in a few weeks.

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