The European Commission confirmed today that they did a number of surprised inspections of various ebook developers and publishers yesterday. These inspections are the first step in the preliminary stages of antitrust investigations.
Apparently the EU like to use a scared straight method and thus save all the bother of filling out the paperwork.
There's no word yet on who was visited, and from what I can tell this had little to do with Agency Model. At least, it had little to do with the official model but there's always a chance that some of the UK publishers were visited. Yesterday's inspections don't imply guilt. Also, there's no definitive end date for the investigations.
BTW, the following press release is the official announcement. This is what the WSJ worked from.
From the press release:
The European Commission can confirm that on 1 March 2011 Commission officials initiated unannounced inspections at the premises of companies that are active in the e-book (electronic or digital books) publishing sector in several Member States. The Commission has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).
The Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the relevant national competition authorities.
Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step into suspected anti-competitive practices. The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. The Commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings.
There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.