Originally published: April 12, 2012
Last updated: April 19, 2012 - 3:57pm
The Justice Department's legal pursuit of Apple for alleged e-book price fixing stretches the boundaries of antitrust law and is likely to end in defeat.
That's what happened in 1982, when an embarrassed Justice Department admitted its antitrust lawsuit against IBM was "without merit" and abandoned the case. And in 2001, a federal appeals court nixed the Justice Department's ambitious attempt to rewrite antitrust law by carving Microsoft into two separate companies. "It's a harder case against Apple than the publishers," says Geoffrey Manne, who teaches antitrust law at the Lewis and Clark Law School in Oregon and runs the International Center for Law and Economics. One reason lies in the Justice Department's 36-page complaint, which recounts how publishers met over breakfast in a London hotel and dinners at Manhattan's posh Picholine restaurant, which boasts a "Best of Award of Excellence" from Wine Spectator magazine. The key point is that Apple wasn't present.
The Department of Justice "has a far better case against the publishers than Apple," says Dominick Armentano, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Hartford and author of Antitrust and Monopoly who's now affiliated with the Independent Institute in Oakland (CA). "If the CEOs of the various publishers got together in hotel rooms to discuss prices, they are sunk" and might as well settle, he says. Richard Epstein, the prolific legal scholar and professor of law at New York University, goes further. Epstein argues in an essay published yesterday that there are "difficulties" with the Justice Department's case against publishers as well: "It will take some time to hear the whole story, but the betting here is that this lawsuit is a mistake."
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