Apple Inc. has much to gain in fighting e-books case

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Accused of playing a central role in a conspiracy with publishers to eliminate retail price competition and raise e-book prices, Apple Inc says it has done nothing wrong. Accused of playing a central role in a conspiracy with publishers to eliminate retail price competition and raise e-book prices, Apple Inc says it has done nothing wrong.
SummaryTech giant is accused of conspiracy to eliminate retail price competition, raise e-book prices.

Apple Inc. couldn't have been too surprised on Wednesday when a judge slammed the company for violating antitrust laws over e-book pricing - the judge had warned in May that she believed the government could prove its case.

Accused of playing a central role in a conspiracy with publishers to eliminate retail price competition and raise e-book prices, Apple Inc. says it has done nothing wrong.

But in addition to defending its honor, the US tech giant has strategic reasons not to settle and to continue fighting the decision as it has said it will do.

Chief among those is preserving its negotiating power in future content deals and its ability to control every aspect of its online stores, including pricing.

Responding to aggressive forays by Google Inc and Amazon.com Inc into online video and music services, Apple Inc. is in discussions with Hollywood studios and record companies. It may fear that caving to the Justice Department on e-books will embolden its sparring partners, business and legal experts say.

A key issue is the use of the so-called most-favored nation status - part of its agreement with publishers, which gives Apple the right to match lower prices offered by a competitor operating under the wholesale model such as Amazon.

Settling with the government would likely tie Apple Inc. to increased oversight, along with legal restrictions of most-favored nation clauses in the e-book market, said Chris Compton, a California antitrust lawyer who represents tech companies.

"Apple Inc. may have well felt they needed to protect their ability to continue using that kind of clause in their other product lines," Compton said.

Apple Inc. even got some favorable language in the ruling by U.S. District Judge Denise Cote in New York, who stressed she did not intend to issue a blanket ban on specific tools Apple employs - like most favored nations clauses -- from a company's arsenal. She also took pains to limit her opinion to the specific events in the e-book market in 2010.

"It does not seek to paint with a broader brush," wrote Cote. It is uncertain whether Apple Inc. would have got a similar disclaimer had

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