In a potential major setback for Apple Inc., a federal judge who will preside over a coming antitrust trial that will determine whether it engaged in a conspiracy to raise prices for e-books said on Thursday that the government is likely able to prove its case against the computer maker.
US District Judge Denise Cole is set to oversee the trial starting 3 June and this week gave her views during a pretrial hearing, and although she stressed her tentative view was not final, she believes the US government can prove Apple engaged in a price-raising conspiracy with five book publishers.
Apple and the five publishers – Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette and MacMillan – were accused by the Department of Justice last April of colluding on ebook prices in a bid to fight Amazon’s dominance of the market.
The judge had read only some of the evidence so far, her comments could add to pressure on Apple to settle the lawsuit.
“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,” the judge said, “and that the circumstantial evidence in this case, including the terms of the agreements, will confirm that.”
The judge emphasised this was her “tentative view,” not a final verdict, and said it is based largely on materials submitted as evidence, such as emails and correspondence which took place over a six-week period between December 2009 and January 2010, three months before the original iPad went on sale marking Apple’s entry to the ebook market, writes the International Business Times.
Unsurprisingly, Apple isn’t impressed by Cote’s comments. “We strongly disagree with the court’s preliminary statements about the case today,” lawyer Orin Snyder said, going on to suggest that Apple’s own evidence would sufficiently counter that of the Justice Department.
“We look forward to presenting our evidence in open court and proving that Apple did not conspire to fix prices,” he concluded. In his defence, Snyder said the evidence will show Apple benefited consumers by providing competition in the emerging ebook market.
The Cupertino firm is the final hold-out in the case, after the five publishers agreed at various points over the past year to cough up penalties. Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Hachette Book Group all rolled over immediately, followed by Pearson in December 2012, and MacMillan in February.
Cote, who is hearing the case without a jury, said at the start of the proceedings that she was working on a draft of a written decision that she would expand and publish after the trial.
Toward the end of the hearing, Mark Ryan, a lawyer with the Justice Department, asked if she would be able to share any of her thoughts on the case so far, reports Reuters.
Apple CEO Tim Cook is expected to appear to give evidence, among others, after the DoJ convinced the court that his conversations with Steve Jobs give him unique insight into the case.