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Amazon said to settle EU antitrust probe over e-books clauses

Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - 18:18

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Amazon.com Inc is set to dodge antitrust fines from a European Union probe into its e-book deals with publishers, according to two people familiar with the company's bid to settle the 19-month investigation.

[BRUSSELS] Amazon.com Inc is set to dodge antitrust fines from a European Union probe into its e-book deals with publishers, according to two people familiar with the company's bid to settle the 19-month investigation.

Amazon has agreed to change controversial clauses that required publishers to offer it terms as good as or better than those they sign with other e-book distributors, according to one of the people who spoke on condition of anonymity because details aren't public.

The European Commission will soon publish details of the offer and ask publishers to give feedback before it can move toward closing the case without levying fines or declaring that the company breached antitrust rules.

The e-books probe has been a distraction for Amazon as it fights a higher-profile case over its tax arrangements with Luxembourg - one of a series of EU probes targeting the fiscal arrangements of US tech giants. Apple Inc was ordered to pay 13 billion euros (S$19.82 billion) in back taxes when the EU ruled against its tax deal with Ireland.

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Amazon declined to comment. The European Commission didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Amazon and Apple managed to shut down a German antitrust probe into audio books deals last week when they also agreed to drop restrictive terms with publishers. Amazon's success in settling the probe contrasts with Alphabet Inc's Google which tried and failed to strike a similar accord with EU regulators investigating its search engine.

Google's several offers of concessions met with fierce opposition from European publishers and smaller rivals that eventually forced the EU to abandon a settlement.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager hasn't shied away from going after big US companies since taking over as the EU's antitrust chief in late 2014. While she dismisses criticism that she's deliberately targeting US firms, some of her most high-profile probes concern Amazon, Google and Apple.

Amazon, now the largest distributor of e-books in Europe, helped pioneer the market with the introduction of the Kindle device in 2007. The EU opened its probe in June 2015, saying it was checking whether Amazon's contracts prevent competitors from developing new products and limit competition between sellers of e-books. The investigation focuses on books published in English and German.

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