Updated. Coincidence, or conspiracy? It’s a classic question that gets brought up when the details of any intriguing story start to surface. And some industry insiders are asking it in relation to the antitrust charges being brought against Apple and a group of book publishers over alleged collusion on the pricing of e-books.
One fact in particular I’m hearing chatter about is that Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, the Seattle-based law firm that was the first to file charges regarding an alleged e-book price-fixing cabal back in August 2011, is very close neighbors with Amazon, the e-commerce giant that is said to be the chief corporate victim of the alleged Apple/publisher collusion.
The thing is, it’s not just the city of Seattle that Hagens Berman and Amazon have in common. They literally share an address.
Since mid-2010, Hagens Berman has been headquartered inside 1918 Eighth Avenue, a sleek 36-story skyscraper in downtown Seattle’s Denny Regrade neighborhood. In March of 2011 it got a new neighbor: Amazon started leasing out a very sizable chunk within 1918 Eighth — some 460,000 square feet — for its own downtown Seattle pied-a-terre in March 2011. Just a few months later, Amazon was reportedly looking to expand its footprint in the building by some 300,000 additional square feet. Amazon now accounts for more than two-thirds of the entire building’s office space, according to the Wikipedia entry on 1918 Eighth.
Now, in an expansive and modern building like 1918 Eighth, it’s very unlikely that folks at Hagens Berman and Amazon share a water cooler or anything. But either way, the proximity is something that’s being snarked about — especially among those in the tech and publishing industries who feel the antitrust claims are misguided in the first place.
For more than a year now, Hagens Berman has been a whistleblower on the alleged e-book price fixing situation in general. It was the first law firm to file a class action lawsuit concerning the case in August 2011, a complaint that the firm said was some six months in the making. Late last year, a U.S. District judge selected Hagens Berman to serve as co-lead counsel in a multidistrict class action lawsuit regarding the e-book antitrust claims. And this week, the whole situation entered a national stage when the United States Department of Justice filed its own antitrust lawsuit against Apple and five major book publishers. The DOJ complaint is separate from the one Hagens Berman is co-leading — but it is understood to be an “incalculable boon” to Hagens Berman’s cause.
Apple, for its part, has officially denied the DOJ’s collusion charges, saying in a statement to AllThingsD that its work toward “breaking Amazon’s monopolistic grip on the publishing industry” was done fair and square. Three of the five publishers charged in the case — HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Hachette — have already agreed to settle with the DOJ. Macmillan and Penguin have each professed innocence and vowed to fight the case in court.
It’s important to stress that Hagens Berman is not working on behalf of Amazon in its suit against Apple and the publishers — it is working on behalf of consumers, in a class action suit. But it’s clear that Amazon certainly stands to benefit from the charges against Apple and the accused publishers. And the very fact that the first law firm to blow the whistle on the case is literally so close to the case’s largest potential corporate beneficiary is raising a few eyebrows.
We’ve reached out to Hagens Berman for comment, and will update this post with any additional information we receive.
UPDATE: Hagens Berman partner Steve Berman sent this comment via email:
“Its fascinating speculation, we began working on the case even before Amazon moved in here and we are not doing Amazon’s bidding.”