ANTITRUST FALL FORUM

Antitrust enforcers increase scrutiny of big tech companies

The nation’s top antitrust enforcers from the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission took to the stage of the recent ABA Antitrust Law Section’s Fall Forum Tech Summit to announce that online platforms are coming under more government scrutiny as federal regulators strive to ensure that there is level ground and fair play in the fast-moving technological marketplace.

Federal regulators hope to establish a level playing field in the fast-moving technological marketplace.

Federal regulators hope to establish a level playing field in the fast-moving technological marketplace.

Photo by Getty Images

“Antitrust law has proven itself powerful and flexible enough to address this country’s most daunting monopolies, including in technological markets,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who is overseeing the Department of Justice’s investigations into tech platforms.

Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, the DOJ’s antitrust chief, told the 300-plus lawyers attending the Nov. 18 conference in Washington, D.C., that the department’s continued review of leading digital platforms has resulted in the decision to seek court approval to terminate the legal rules, known as Paramount consent decrees, that governed the movie industry for nearly 70 years.

In 1938, the Antitrust Division filed a lawsuit alleging several major motion picture companies had engaged in a conspiracy to control the industry through ownership of film distribution and exhibition. In a 1948 Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v. Paramount Pictures, the nation’s eight major motion-picture distributors were prohibited from both distributing films and owning theaters in the future without court approval.

“To be clear, terminating the Paramount decrees does not mean that the practices addressed in them are now considered per se lawful under the antitrust laws,” Delrahim said. “They are not insulated from antitrust scrutiny. If credible evidence shows a practice harms consumer welfare, antitrust enforcers remain ready to act.

 “As the movie industry goes through more changes with technological innovation, with new streaming businesses and new business models, it is our hope that the termination of the Paramount decrees clears the way for consumer-friendly innovation,” Delrahim added.

Investigations of tech platforms are also underway at the Federal Trade Commission, where Chairman Joseph Simons said his agency is investigating Facebook as well as “multiple other” online platforms, though he refused to identify them.

 “We can say publicly that we are investigating Facebook because Facebook disclosed that,’’ Simons said. 

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