In a proposed settlement disclosed on February 8, Macmillan has agreed to pay up to $20 million to settle price-fixing suits filed by a group of states' attorneys general, and a consolidated consumer class action, led by Seattle-based firm Hagens Berman.
While the Macmillan settlement must still be approved by the court, the announcement suggests that the two-year-old legal drama over e-book pricing may finally be drawing down for the accused publishers: all five have now settled with the U.S. Department of Justice, and as PW reported, on February 8th, Judge Denise Cote gave final approval to the previously agreed to $70-plus million state settlement (with Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster) after a swift, 15-minute public "fairness" hearing, signing the order from the bench. The consumer class action is the third, and final, hurdle.
The states' case, and the consumer class action case continues against Penguin and Apple, with a June trial still on track.
Meanwhile, Cote's approval on Friday clears the way for the first credits and refunds to begin flowing to consumers, with the fund to be left open to distribute additional funds as they are collected. If Cote's final approval order is not appealed, (and we should know within 30 days if that is the case) payments and credits could be issued by Spring. An appeal, meanwhile, seems unlikley, as Cote noted from the bench that there were only four objections to the state settlement, none of which pertained to the settlement terms, just 100 people opted out of the settlement, and no one showed up to speak against the settlement at the fairness hearing.
At press time, it remained unclear how the consolidated consumer class action suit, first filed in 2011, was playing out alongside the state claims, which had already set up a mechanism to reimburse consumers for alleged price-fixing. Although no specific consumer class action settlements were announced with Hachette, HarperCollins, and S&S, it is likley those firms' initial settlements with states’ attorneys mooted the class action case.
In a Hagens Berman release, Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman and lead counsel for the proposed class of consumers, said the firm worked "alongside" 33 states attorneys general and the DoJ to “present a unified front in dealing with Macmillan.”
The deal with Macmillan adds an additional $20 million to the pot of money that will be used to reimburse e-book purchasers allegedly wronged by price-fixing. In the state settlement, Hachette has agreed to pay $31,711,425; HarperCollins, $19,575,246; and Simon & Schuster, $17,752,480.
In agreeing to settle, none of the publishers has admitted any wrongdoing, and each has denied engaging in an illegal conspiracy with Apple to inflate e-book prices.
At press time, it was unclear if Penguin was also moving toward a settlement with the States, and with Hagens Berman. In his statement, Berman would only say that the firm was “moving the consumer class-action litigation forward against the remaining defendants, Penguin and Apple."