Pressure mounts on Justice Dept. to drop Apple e-books suit

July 19, 2012, 10:15 AM UTC

Schumer. Photo: Mallin/Bloomberg via the NY Daily News

FORTUNE — From the day it was filed there seemed something ill-conceived about the Justice Department’s antitrust suit against Apple (AAPL) and five of the six major book publishers.

The optics, as political operatives like to say, were wrong. Here was the government helping Amazon (AMZN) regain monopoly control of the e-book market by attacking companies in a wounded industry that were, as author Jim (“Chaos”) Gleick put it, “gasping for air.”

“The irony bites hard,” wrote Scott Turow, president of the Authors Guild, just before the suit was filed. “Our government may be on the verge of killing real competition in order to save the appearance of competition.”

Apple, which offered its own full-throated defense (see Apple to DOJ: Bite me), had asked for an early trial. The Justice Department, saying its investigators needed more time, got it pushed back to June, 2013.

Now a key Democratic Senator — and important supporter of President Obama’s reelection campaign — has thrown his considerable political weight behind Apple and the publishers.

In a “Memo to DOJ” published on the Wall Street Journals Op-Ed page Tuesday, Sen. Charles Schumer called on the administration to “drop the Apple e-book suit.”

While the claim that the publishers colluded to raise prices “sounds plausible on its face,” he writes, it ignores the underlying dynamics of the e-book market and threatens to “wipe out the publishing industry as we know it.”

“The Justice Department lawsuit is also unsettling from a broader perspective,” he adds. “As our economy transitions to digital platforms, we should be celebrating and supporting industries that find ways to adapt and grow. By developing a pricing model that made e-book sales work for them, publishers did just that.

“I am concerned that the mere filing of this lawsuit has empowered monopolists and hurt innovators. I believe it will have a deterrent effect not only on publishers but on other industries that are coming up with creative ways to grow and adapt to the Internet.

“The administration needs to reassess its prosecution priorities.”

See also: No, Virginia, e-books don’t publish themselves.