Apple, Publishers Face European Antitrust Probe Over E-Book Sales

The European Union's competition regulator said Tuesday that it will investigate five publishing firms on suspicions that they and gadget-maker Apple broke antitrust rules in the sales of e-books.

The European Commission will examine deals between the iPad maker and US publishing majors Simon & Schuster and Harper Collins, Britain's Penguin, France's Hachette Livre and Germany's Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck.

"The Commission will in particular investigate whether these publishing groups and Apple have engaged in illegal agreements or practices that would have the object or the effect of restricting competition" in Europe, it said in a statement.

The Commission also will examine "the character and terms of the agency agreements entered into by the above named five publishers and retailers for the sale of e-books. The Commission has concerns that these practices may breach EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices."

The European Commission carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of several companies active in the e-book publishing sector in March, the statement said.

Harper Collins is owned by News Corp., which also owns NewsCore.