Publishing Insider Tipped Law Firms About E-Book Price Fixing Conspiracy

The decision by major publishers to strike a pricing deal with Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) has been the source of speculation and several antitrust investigations. Now, a new court filing suggests someone inside the industry was leaking the publishers’ pricing strategy.

In a brief filed in New York federal court this week, law firm Grant & Eisenhofer said it should get to represent consumers because it has special knowledge about how the scheme took place. The filing reads in part:

G&E has been investigating this case since we were approached through counsel by an industry source in March 2011. This source provided detailed knowledge from his years in the industry that further spurred our investigation

The filing is significant because, until now, allegations that the publishers colluded with Apple to fix book prices has been based on speculation from public sources, in particular a January 2010 article in which Steve Jobs told a Wall Street Journal (NSDQ: NWS) reporter that publishers were “unhappy.”

The insider’s information might mean that the law firm will have an easier time proving an actual conspiracy took place. The insider is also mentioned in another filing this week by a lawyer from a different, Washington-based law firm. It refers to “an in-person meeting, which I attended, with a very knowledgeable and important confidential source.”

This week’s filings came in the context of different law firms jockeying over who will get to play lead violin in a series of nearly 30 nation-wide class action suits. The cases, some of which also name Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) as part of the conspiracy, were recently consolidated before a federal judge in Manhattan.

The litigation process will likely take years. Meanwhile, Apple and the publishers are also being investigated by the Justice Department, state attorneys general and European authorities.

The law firms tied to the confidential source did not immediately return email requests for comment. Readers, if you have any idea as to the identify of the “important, confidential source,” please send on your thoughts to me or my publishing reporter colleague, Laura Owen.