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US Department of Justice reaches settlement with Macmillan in price-fixing case

The Department of Justice and Holtzbrinck Publishers - which operates as Macmillan - reached a settlement in a long-running suit against Apple and five publishers over an illegal conspiracy to raise eBook prices.

If approved by the court, the settlement will remove Macmillan from the department's crosshairs and allow retailers to offer discounts on Macmillan eBooks. The publisher will be prohibited from entering new agreements with similar eBook pricing restrictions until December 2014.

The fight dates back to April 2012, when the DOJ announced that it had filed suit against Apple and five other publishers over an alleged "illegal conspiracy" involving eBook price fixing. At the time, Apple, Macmillan, and Penguin planned to fight the government, while Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster agreed to a proposed settlement. The Penguin Group reached a deal with the DOJ in December.

"As a result of today's settlement, Macmillan has agreed to immediately allow retailers to lower the prices consumers pay for Macmillan's e-books," Jamillia Ferris, chief of staff and council at the DOJ's Antitrust Division, said in a statement. "Just as consumers are already paying lower prices for the ebook versions of many of Hachette's, HarperCollins' and Simon & Schuster's new releases and best sellers, we expect the prices of many of Macmillan's e-books will also decline."

Additionally, the agreement imposes an antitrust compliance program on Macmillan, requiring the publisher to provide advance notification to the DOJ of any plans to work with other publishers, and regularly report any communications with other publishing houses.

With Macmillan out of the way, the department can set its sights solely on Apple - the remaining player in its eBook price fixing litigation. Apple in April denied the government's allegations, calling the DOJ's accusation "simply not true."

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The popular retailer and its five publishing counterparts were accused last spring of scheming to ensure customers paid $2 to $3 (£1.3 to £1.9) - or about $100 million (£63.3 million) in total - more for eBooks than they would have without the companies' arrangement.

Image Credit: Flickr (a_mason)