The European Commission [official website] said Thursday that they have opened a formal antitrust investigation [press release] into Amazon’s e-books business. The investigation will focus on particular clauses in Amazon’s contracts requiring publishers to inform Amazon about more favorable or alternative terms offered to Amazon’s competitors. Amazon has also added clauses to their contracts that require publishers to offer terms at least as good, if not better than, their competitors’ contracts. The Commission is concerned that these clauses may cause more difficulties for other e-book distributors who are trying to compete with Amazon. EU Commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager said:
Amazon has developed a successful business that offers consumers a comprehensive service, including for e-books. Our investigation does not call that into question. However, it is my duty to make sure that Amazon’s arrangements with publishers are not harmful to consumers, by preventing other e-book distributors from innovating and competing effectively with Amazon. Our investigation will show if such concerns are justified.
If the Commission determines that Amazon has violated EU antitrust rules, then Amazon may face charges or may be forced to change their business practices.
The world’s largest technology companies have faced antitrust charges in the US and internationally in recent months. In May the European Commission opened [JURIST report] an investigation into potential antitrust violations in the e-commerce market with the scope of the investigation including a number of the world’s largest technology and search companies. In April the European Commission initiated antitrust proceedings against Google [JURIST report] accusing the company of utilizing its dominant position in the search engine market to hurt competitors. In February a judge for the Northern District of California dismissed a class action suit against Google [JURIST report] for allegedly monopolizing search engines in Android phones. In September a judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California approved a settlement between federal antitrust authorities and eBay [JURIST report] over allegations that eBay agreed to not to selectively recruit and hire employees from rival companies. In June Apple reached an out-of-court settlement [JURIST report] with the US Department of Justice regarding a class action lawsuit that accused the electronics company of illegally participating in a e-book price-fixing scheme.