FORTUNE -- Paid Content's Laura Hazard Owen, combing through documents newly unredacted in the states' (as opposed to the U.S. Department of Justice's) antitrust complaint against Apple (AAPL) and five book publishers, uncovered a gem: a blunt Steve Jobs e-mail that basically hands the attorneys general their price-fixing case.
In a note to a publishing executive nervous about sticking it to Amazon (AMZN), Jobs wrote:
As I see it, [Conspiring Publisher] has the following choices:
1. Throw in with Apple and see if we can all make a go of this to create a real mainstream ebooks market at $12.99 and $14.99.
2. Keep going with Amazon at $9.99. You will make a bit more money in the short term, but in the medium term Amazon will tell you they will be paying you 70% of $9.99. They have shareholders too.
3. Hold back your books from Amazon. Without a way for customers to buy your ebooks, they will steal them. This will be the start of piracy and once started, there will be no stopping it. Trust me, I've seen this happen with my own eyes.
Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see any other alternatives. Do you?
Good stuff. But as several readers have pointed out, Jobs telegraphed all this in a brief on-camera exchange with the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg at the launch of the original iPad in January 2010, more than two years before the government's antitrust lawyers caught up to the alleged conspiracy.
It's in the AllThingsD video here. You can skip Kara Swisher's irritating preamble and go straight to the Steve Jobs part, which starts at the 1:40 mark. Mossberg asks Jobs why customers would pay $14.99 for an iBook when they could get the same title from Amazon for $9.99.
"The prices will be the same," Jobs assures him. "The publishers are actually going to withhold their books from Amazon."
Which they did. Amazon was forced to abandon the $9.99 model and for two years -- until the DOJ filed its suit -- e-book prices were the same on the iPad, the Nook and the Kindle.
Amazon has now gone back to offering New York Times bestsellers for $9.99.
As we've suggested before (see here, here and here), it seems wrong that the government would give a pass to Amazon -- an e-book monopolist selling titles below cost -- and instead sue five publishers gasping for air in a shrinking market.
Adding insult to injury, Amazon has since started signing up authors for its own imprints, threatening to cut publishers off at the source. For a view of how the whole business looks from Publisher's Row, see Brad Stone's excellent "Amazon's Hit Man," in Bloomberg Businessweek.
Cupertino breaks its silence, laying out its legal defense in four sentences
The company's response to US v. Apple Inc. et al., when it came Thursday evening, was as succinct and carefully crafted as any Apple (AAPL) marketing slogan.
What the Department of Justice characterized as a "per se violation" of the Sherman Antitrust Act, Apple is going to paint as an act of liberation.
We got our copy the company's four-sentence response to MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 13, 2012 6:13 AM ET
Shares opened higher, despite news the company may have stepped in legal quicksand
Having Justice Department lawyers around, veteran tech watcher Dana Blankenhorn reminds us in a Seeking Alpha post this morning, "is bad for any company. Especially antitrust lawyers. Especially tech companies."
"Every tech company the Justice Department has ever gone after -- IBM (IBM), the former AT&T (T), and (most especially) Microsoft (MSFT) can attest to this fact. All were transformed and MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 11, 2012 11:20 AM ET
The settlement the Justice Department is seeking could shutter the iBookstore
Reuters and Bloomberg have both reported -- citing a pair of unnamed sources -- that Apple (AAPL) and one or two major publishers are preparing to get sued for antitrust violations, perhaps as early as today.
Three of the five publishers accused of colluding with Apple to fix the prices of e-books have reportedly accepted deals offered by the European Commission and MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 11, 2012 7:12 AM ET
An impressive start, but how many of those 350,000 downloads were freebies?
Apple (AAPL) certainly got the attention of educators and the educational publishing community with the iPad textbook initiative it announced last Thursday. And no wonder. It's been a long time since anybody lavished that kind of attention and glitz on what has traditionally been an unglamorous -- albeit highly profitable -- corner of the book industry.
The first measure of MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jan 23, 2012 3:08 PM ET
What if Apple turned the iPad into an easy-to-use front end for real-time financial data?
News Corp. (NWS), a ship that leaks from the top, reports through AllThingsD that Apple (AAPL) has scheduled "an important — but not large-scale" New York City event in late January headlined by Eddy Cue, Apple's senior vice president for Internet software and services.
I'm having a hard time getting as excited about this as Kara Swisher seems MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Jan 3, 2012 6:52 AM ET
The antitrust probe dates back to a deal Steve Jobs cut with five publishers in Jan. 2010
The language of the European Commission's press release Tuesday announcing the start of a formal antitrust investigation of Apple (AAPL) and five major book publishers doesn't address the obvious question: If Amazon (AMZN) is the 500-lbs. gorilla in the e-book trade, why has Apple's much smaller iBookstore been targeted?
The answer lies in a deal MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Dec 6, 2011 8:13 AM ET
Negotiations with publishers reach an impasse over who controls subscriber lists
A report in Monday's Financial Times confirms early accounts of a sticking point that emerged during Steve Jobs' off-the-record meetings with the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Time Inc. the week after the iPad was unveiled.
According to the FT, Apple's (AAPL) reluctance to share subscription information is "pretty damn close" to a dealbreaker for publishers who were hoping MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Feb 16, 2010 4:24 PM ET
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