Apple customers may get slice of $400M e-book settlement

FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2011 file photo, a person stands near the Apple logo at the company's store in Grand Central Terminal, in New York. Apple will refund up to $400 million to consumers ensnared in a plot to raise the prices of digital books unless the company overturns a court decision affirming its pivotal role in the collusion. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2011 file photo, a person stands near the Apple logo at the company's store in Grand Central Terminal, in New York. Apple will refund up to $400 million to consumers ensnared in a plot to raise the prices of digital books unless the company overturns a court decision affirming its pivotal role in the collusion. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WAVY) — Apple, Inc. customers in Virginia could be eligible for part of a $400 million settlement stemming from claims the company participated in a price-fixing conspiracy for e-books, Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring said Wednesday.

Apple will refund the money to consumers in Virginia and 32 other states and territories unless the company gets a court to overturn a decision affirming its pivotal role in the conspiracy. $10.5 million will go directly to Virginia consumer damage claims and Virginia’s civil penalty claims.

“This is good news for the consumers who were harmed by this price-fixing conspiracy and it sends an important message that Virginia will not tolerate illegal, anti-competitive business practices that drive up prices for consumers,” Attorney General Herring said in a statement.

The settlement bill emerged in a Wednesday court filing made a month after attorneys suing Apple notified U.S. District Judge Denise Cote in New York that an agreement had been reached to avoid a trial over the issue.

Lawsuits filed on behalf of e-book buyers had originally been seeking damages of up to $840 million after Cote ruled in a separate trial last year that Apple Inc. had violated U.S. antitrust law by orchestrating a price-fixing scheme with five major publishers of electronic books.

Cote’s decision sided with the U.S. Justice Department’s contention that Apple’s late CEO, Steve Jobs, had schemed with major e-book publishers to charge higher prices in response to steep discounts offered by Amazon.com, Inc. Jobs, who died in October 2011, negotiated the deals as Apple was preparing to release the first iPad in 2010.

Apple is appealing Cote’s decision from last year. If it prevails, the Cupertino, California, company won’t have to pay the $400 million settlement. If the appeals court voids Cote’s verdict and returns the case to her for further review, Apple would still have to refund $50 million to consumers. No money will be owed if the appeals court concludes that Apple didn’t break any antitrust laws.

“Apple did not conspire to fix e-book pricing, and we will continue to fight those allegations on appeal,” the company said in a statement. “We did nothing wrong and we believe a fair assessment of the facts will show it.”

A decision on Apple’s appeal, now in the Second Circuit in New York, might not be issued for another year, according to Wednesday’s filing.

If the appeal is rejected, millions of e-book buyers will be eligible for refunds.

More  than 23 million consumers received notices of a $166 million settlement previously reached with the five book publishers found to be conspiring with Apple: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillian, Penguin and Simon & Schuster. Attorney General Herring said consumers in Virginia would receive $4.3 million from that settlement.

Consumers who bought e-books from those five publishers between April 1, 2010 and May 21, 2012 will be eligible for a slice of the settlement fund with Apple, if they lived in one of the states or territories involved in the lawsuit.

Eligible consumers will be notified, once the settlement is finalized. More information is available at http://www.ebookagsettlements.com.

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