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Google exec's inconsistent testimony weakens DOJ case against Apple in e-book price fixing suit

Thomas Turvey

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday called a Google director to testify against Apple in its antitrust case over e-book price fixing, but the move proved unhelpful at best as the executive buckled under questioning.

In hopes of bolstering its case against Apple, the Justice Department looked to Google's director of strategic partnerships Thomas Turvey, who previously stated in written testimony that publishers had told him Apple was the reason they were switching to agency model pricing, reports The Verge.

Apple is being accused of conspiring to fix e-book prices with the help of five major book publishers by using what is known in the business as an agency model, which allows content owners to set pricing under a most favored nations clause. The clause precludes them from selling said content to other retailers for lower prices.

This supposed collusion diminished the ability for other book resellers to compete, including market leader Amazon, the DOJ argues. To show how MFN negatively impacted the e-book landscape, the Justice Department on Thursday turned to Turvey, who claimed to have evidence suggesting Apple forced the publishing houses to move to the agency model.

Once on the stand the veracity of Turvey story was immediately questioned by Apple lawyer Orin Snyder, who slowly chipped away at the Google exec's filed statement.

In his written testimony, Turvey claimed representatives of some of the publishers involved told him directly in 2010 that they were switching to agency because Apple required such compliance in its iBookstore contracts. It came out in court, however, that Turvey had drafted the statement with his lawyers, and the executive was unsure who exactly wrote the crucial allegations.

As proceedings wore on, Turvey's testimony became increasingly unreliable, as he wasn't able to recall the names of any publishing representatives alluded to in the document. The executive also acknowledged that the publishers' switch to the agency model affected Google's business dealings, but failed to remember details of reported meetings regarding the matter.

According to The Verge, by the end of Turvey's interview, he had gone from saying publishing executives spoke with him directly, to conceding they "likely" told someone on his team about Apple's purportedly aggressive tactics.

The DOJ's antitrust case continues on Friday with more testimony from Turvey, and is scheduled to run for the next two weeks.