Judge: Apple Conspired With Publishers To Hike E-Book Prices

It’s been an up and down sort of day for Apple — while it managed to make peace with its rival Amazon in the App Store vs. Appstore debate, it also suffered a pretty big hit by way of a guilty verdict in the antitrust civil trial over e-book price-fixing. A U.S. District judge ruled today that Apple broke antitrust laws and conspired with publishers to hike up the prices of e-books.

If you’ve been following this case, you know it’s been going on for quite some time, with Apple and book publishers arguing that they weren’t colluding to keep Amazon on its toes and raise prices.

But as the Associated Press reports, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote ruled this morning, citing “compelling evidence” from the words of the late Steve Jobs that Apple knew exactly what it was doing.

One such example she mentioned in the ruling was Jobs’ acknowledgement of the worries facing publishers over their products eroding in price, and said he’d be willing to try selling e-books for $12.99 or $14.99.

When Apple’s e-book store did launch, Jobs bought an e-book for $14.99 and told a reporter that day that Amazon’s competitive $9.99 pricing for the same book was no big deal, because soon all prices would “be the same.”

“Apple has struggled mightily to reinterpret Jobs’s statements in a way that will eliminate their bite,” Cote wrote in the 160-page opinion. “Its efforts have proven fruitless.”

She says Apple knew good and well that no publishers would fight Amazon’s super cheap $9.99 prices for e-books on their own, so the company “created a mechanism and environment that enabled them to act together in a matter of weeks to eliminate all retail price competition for their e-books.”

To that end, she added: “The evidence is overwhelming that Apple knew of the unlawful aims of the conspiracy and joined the conspiracy with the specific intent to help it succeed.”

Damages have yet to be determined, but an Apple spokesman says the company will plan an appeal.

“Apple did not conspire to fix e-book pricing and we will continue to fight against these false accusations,” he said. “We’ve done nothing wrong.”

Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer said the ruling is big score for consumers, saying of the ruling: “Through today’s court decision and previous settlements with five major publishers, consumers are again benefiting from retail price competition and paying less for their e-books.”

The government wants and order banning Apple from making any agreements with publishers that would allow them to set prices rather than retailers for two years, and prohibit Apple from future antitrust law violations. In addition, the Justice Department want Apple to enter a sort of rehab, an antitrust compliance program and also give executives antitrust training.

Judge at NY civil trial: Apple conspired with publishers to raise e-book prices [Associated Press]