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5 September 2012

Attorney files brief defending Apple as a five-page comic

Watchmen it ain't, but the brief condenses complex arguments admirably.

By Alex Hern

The anti-trust case against Apple, Macmillan and Penguin, all accused of conspiring to fix ebook prices, thunders on, but one part of it is shortly to come to a close. Three of the originally accused publishers – HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster – agreed to settle with the Department of Justice in April this year, and that settlement is finally coming through.

The DoJ’s proposed settlement would require the co-operating publishers to end their existing agreements with Apple, and would also block them from using agency pricing for two years. Agency pricing is the retail model, at the heart of the case, by which publishers set the price of their books and the retailer (in this case, Apple) takes a percentage of that. The DoJ alleges that this model, which stands in opposition to Amazon’s method of paying a flat price per book and setting the price themselves, is the result of an anticompetitive cartel aimed at raising prices of ebooks.

Although three of the five publishers have agreed to settle, there are calls from a number of parties to block that settlement. Apple has argued that it’s unfair if it goes through before the actual trial begins, in June 2013, and over 800 public comments were filed requesting that the Justice Department modify the settlement.

As a result, the District Court allowed two of the opposing parties to file amici curiae (friends of the court) briefs. The Authors Guild and Bob Kohn, a well known attorney who specialises in intellectual property, were deemed to be interested third parties, as were Barnes & Noble and the American Booksellers Association, who had previously been given permission.

The Authors Guild filed their five page brief on 15 August, but Bob Kohn’s original attempt was rejected by Judge Denise Cote for being too long, and she gave him until yesterday to file a five page version.

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How can one get a complex legal argument across in just five pages? The New York Times’ Julie Bosman reveals Kohn’s plan:

“I thought of the idea of using pictures which, as we know, paint a thousand words,” Mr. Kohn said in an e-mail.

He called his daughter, Katie, who is studying for her Ph.D in film studies at Harvard, who connected him with a fellow student, Julia Alekseyeva. After conferring with Ms. Alekseyeva, Mr. Kohn wrote the script and she drew the illustrations. (Judge Cote and Mr. Kohn play a role in the fictional narrative.)

The full strip – plus a page of footnotes, which all the best comics have – is embedded below, via paidContent.