The U.S. Dep’t of Justice filed a lawsuit today accusing Apple and other e-book publishers of colluding to price-fix the cost of e-books, in violation of federal antitrust laws.  The antitrust suit was filed against Apple, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Penguin, MacMillan, and Simon & Schuster. Three of the publishers have agreed to a settlement, while the Justice Department will continue to litigate against Apple and the two publishers Macmillan, and Penguin.

The Justice Department accuses the publishers of conspiring to limit e-book price competition, increasing Amazon’s e-book retail prices and causing “consumers to pay tens of millions of dollars more for e-books than they otherwise would have paid.”  The publishers settling with the DOJ have essentially agreed to pay more than $51 million back, to compensate consumers who bought price-fixed e-books.

What is unusual about this story is not the increasingly commonplace efforts by blue-chip corporations to swindle average consumers, but how the DOJ appears to be handling the allegations.  The civil antitrust lawsuit is seeking only the repayment of money, which seems to be a departure from prior antitrust price-fixing lawsuits by federal and state authorities, which have on numerous occasions resulted in the perpetrators getting arrested or going to prison.   Perhaps, a pound of cash truly is more valuable than a pound of flesh.