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Lawsuits allege ebook price-fixing conspiracy in Canada

The Globe and Mail is reporting that several lawsuits have been filed in Canada alleging that, like their counterparts south of the border, the Canadian subsidiaries of foreign publishing houses conspired to lower the prices of ebooks.

While there are, as yet, no reports of representatives from Canadian firms meeting in high-end restaurants to fix prices, the Globe reports that the publishers named in the lawsuits “included” the defendants implicated in similar cases in the U.S. and EU “ namely, Apple, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster, as well as their Canadian subsidiaries.

So far, lawsuits have been filed in three provinces. The Globe has details from the B.C. case:

A proposed class-action lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court by the Vancouver firm Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman alleges that Apple Inc. and a number of publishers engaged in a conspiracy to lessen competition and fix, maintain, increase or control the prices of e-books. It is the most recent of at least five such suits filed recently in courts in Ontario, Quebec and B.C.

It also alleges that the defendants or their representatives communicated secretly, in person and by phone, to discuss and fix e-book prices, in the lead-up to the introduction of Apple’s iPad, which can function as an eReader, in April of 2010.

In addition it alleges that the growing Canadian eBook market is highly concentrated, making it more susceptible to collusion.

The lawsuits appear to imply that, like U.S. consumers, Canadians were victimized by the slight rise in ebook prices when agency pricing was introduced in 2010; they don’t appear to allege that Canadian firms were actively involved in a parallel conspiracy. Still, it’s hard not to be struck by the irony of the last line quoted above, since the introduction of agency pricing actually made the Canadian ebook market less “highly concentrated,” not more.

But if U.S. consumers are getting their day in court, so should Canadian consumers, at least according to the lawyers involved in the suits:

The U.S. case isn’t going to cover Canadian consumers. So it’s the same underlying facts, it’s the same consumer protection agenda, but it is for different consumers in a different country, said lawyer Reidar Mogerman, who filed the suit in B.C. Supreme Court last week on behalf of plaintiff Denise E. McCabe, a non-practising Kamloops lawyer who has purchased a significant number of e-books.