Questions about the legality of the agency model have cropped up in different places since the business model was first introduced into the e-book market and Tuesday a Seattle-based law firm filed a class action suit charging five publishers and Apple with conspiring to fix e-book prices.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by the firm Hagens Berman, the suit alleges that Hachette, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Macmillan teamed with Apple in order to force Amazon to raise its $9.99 e-book price in favor of agency model pricing where e-books are priced from $12.99 to $14.99. According to the suit, Amazon’s discounting pricing “threatened to disrupt the publishers' long-established bricks-and- mortar model faster than they were willing to accept,” while Apple, despite wanting to enter the e-book market, did not want to do so with the low margins being forced on them by Amazon.

Before moving forward, the suit must be approved by the California court. If approved, the suit would represent any consumer who bought an e-book published by a major publisher after the adoption of the agency model by that publisher. The suit seeks damages for the purchase of e-books, an injunction against pricing e-books with the agency model and forfeiture of what Hagens Berman calls the illegal profits received by the publishers as a result of the anticompetitive conduct which could total tens of millions of dollars.

At press time this morning, publishers either had no comment or were unavailable for comment.