Last Tuesday, Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro filed a blockbuster of a suit in Oakland federal court. The 42-page class action complaint accused Apple of conspiring with five of the six major book publishers to fix prices for electronic books. Apple and the publishers allegedly struck the deal in January 2010, according to the complaint, because they had a mutual interest in forcing Amazon to raise e-books prices: Apple was about to launch the iPad, which had e-reader capability; and the publishers were sick of Amazon charging rock-bottom prices for e-books in order to establish market dominance.
Hagens Berman is a leading plaintiffs antitrust firm, and its expertise shows in the August 9 complaint. The filing tells a well-documented story of how Apple and the publishers allegedly drove up e-book prices, supported by price and sales data Hagens Berman developed. "We spent half a year investigating this," name partner Steve Berman told me. "We hired experts to put together that information."
So how do you think Berman felt when four follow-on class actions suddenly appeared in New York and California federal courts on Thursday and Friday? That's right: not happy at all. "They're all copying us, hoping to get a piece of the action," Berman said. "It's really outrageous.They're just trying to take our case away."
A purported class action filed Thursday in Oakland federal court sure reads like a cut-and-paste of the Hagens Berman complaint, naming the same defendants and citing, often with the exact same words, the same narrative history of the alleged price-fixing deal. The August 11 complaint was filed by Ram, Olson, Cereghino & Kopzynski and Spector Roseman Kodroff & Willis. I left messages for Michael Ram and Eugene Spector but neither returned my calls.
Two purported e-book class actions in Manhattan federal court, filed by Lovell Steward Halebian Jacobson and Finkelstein Thompson on Wednesday and Thursday, add Random House as a defendant and eschew outright copying of the Hagen Berman complaint, though they make the same essential allegations. (Those filings are here and here.)
A third Manhattan federal e-books class action features additional defendants-Amazon and Barnes & Noble, which are portrayed as victims of the conspiracy in the Hagens Berman filing. But otherwise, the August 12 filing, by Grant & Eisenhofer and Criden & Love, raises the same price-fixing allegations. I called lawyers at all four of the firms that signed the New York complaints. Kevin Love of Criden & Love declined comment and none of the others responded to messages.
There's no defined standard for picking lead counsel in an antitrust class action, as opposed to a securities class action. Nevertheless, Berman of Hagens Berman is bristling to retain control over the e-book antitrust litigation.
"I'm going to say that these guys are all copycats and don't deserve to be the lead," Berman said.
(Reporting by Alison Frankel)
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