A federal judge in New York threw out claims by independent bookstores that Amazon and the big publishing houses conspired to create a monopoly by using technical measures to ensure that ebooks bought on Amazon could only be read on Kindle devices and apps.
In a ruling published on Monday, US District Judge Jed Rakoff rejected the notion that Amazon’s “device specific DRM” (digital rights management) provided any benefit to the publishers and described the bookstores’ claim as “threadbare.”
The case began in February when Posman Books and Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza of Manhattan joined Fiction Addiction of Greenville, South Carolina, in filing an antitrust lawsuit that claimed that contracts between Amazon and the Big-6 publishers were intended to keep them out of the ebook market.
The claim always seemed far-fetched, in part because other ebook sellers like Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo also sell books with DRM that restrict the reader’s ability to access the book to specific devices and apps (my colleague, Laura Owen, has a full rundown here).
At the same time, it wasn’t clear why Amazon had an obligation to let the indie bookstores sell books through its devices and apps in the first place. As Rakoff noted, “no business has a duty to aid competitors … to the extent plaintiffs have been frozen out of the ebook market, it is not because of unlawful conduct.. Rather, it is simply because consumers prefer the products offered by plaintiffs’ competitors.”
A final odd element to the case, as noted by Publishers Weekly’s Andrew Albanese, is that the bookstores’ alleged conspiracy with Amazon coincides with a period when, according to the Justice Department, they were engaged in a separate conspiracy against Amazon.
Here’s the ruling: