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European Commission probes Amazon over e-book publishing contracts

The European Commission on Thursday began an antitrust investigation into Amazon's e-book business, addressing concerns the company is unfairly using publisher deals to undercut competition — mirroring earlier cases brought against Apple.

Amazon is allegedly using "most favored nation" clauses in contracts, requiring publishers to disclose terms offered to competitors, and/or offer Amazon equal or better ones, according to an official statement.

"The Commission will investigate whether such clauses may limit competition between different e-book distributors and may reduce choice for consumers," the organization said.

The probe will initially concentrate on the English and German language e-book markets as they are the biggest in Europe.

In 2013 Apple lost an antitrust lawsuit brought against it by the U.S. government. A judge found the company to have conspired with publishers to sell e-books on an agency pricing model, granting the iBooks Store "most favored nation" status, in part combat Amazon's then-standard $10. The company is still coping with the aftermath of the case, including rules on the contracts it can sign and a controversial antitrust monitor.

Still earlier, in December 2011, the European Commission launched an investigation of Apple and five major publishers over those same deals. It ended further action against Apple and four of the publishers a year later after securing concessions, including severing agency agreements and banning Apple from using most favored nation clauses. The fifth publisher, Penguin, only made a similar agreement in July 2013.