New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is reportedly investigating the National Football League for antitrust violations in connection with its imposition of “price floors” on tickets for resale. In a 40-page report released last week, the NYAG’s office outlined numerous concerns about the market for event tickets. Among those concerns is the practice, by some NFL teams and the New York Yankees, of imposing minimum pricing requirements (typically prohibiting sale for less than face value) on their “official” online resale platforms. According to the NYAG, such “price floors” make it “easy for buyers to be fooled into believing what they are paying is the market price for a ticket, when in fact the buyer is paying a price artificially inflated by a price floor.”
MLB Settles, Leaving Unanswered Questions: Do Sports Leagues’ Regional Blackout Agreements Violate Antitrust Laws?
In the wake of Major League Baseball’s settlement of antitrust claims on the eve of trial, the central question from the lawsuit remains: are sports leagues’ exclusive broadcasting territories for live games an antitrust violation? Although suits against the MLB and National Hockey League have both settled, analogous antitrust claims are pending against the National Football League, leaving open the possibility that these issues may be finally resolved in the court room.
MLB Pitches Around Consumers by Settling Suit, Avoiding Further Litigation on the Scope of Its Longstanding Antitrust Exemption
We’ve previously written about litigation involving the scope of Major League Baseball’s long-standing antitrust exemption. Earlier this week, on the eve of trial, MLB settled Garber v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, a class action lawsuit challenging its territorial broadcasting policy. The lead plaintiff Marc Lerner is a Mississippi resident and New York Yankee fan who was allegedly charged supracompetitive prices to watch the Yankees due to MLB’s territorial broadcast policies. Under MLB’s policy of territorially restricting television broadcasts, consumers could only watch “out-of-market” games subject to certain limitations, including a requirement to purchase every out-of-market game, even if the consumer was only interested in following a single team. By avoiding the bench trial, MLB avoided having to further litigate the scope of its unique “antitrust exemption” in front of Judge Scheindlin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, who had previously expressed skepticism about the continuing viability of the exemption.
We reported earlier today that the jury began deliberations this past Monday in the antitrust class action lawsuit against Cox Communications brought by its premium services subscribers. The jury returned its verdict today in favor of the plaintiffs and found that Cox had violated the Sherman Act by illegally tying its premium cable services to rentals of its set-top boxes. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $6.31 million in damages, which will be trebled to $19 million. The jury awarded damages based on one aspect of the plaintiffs’ claims for fees from set-top box rentals but declined to award damages based on the plaintiffs’ DVR fees. Thus, the damages award came back much lower than the $49 million figure the plaintiffs were seeking.
After a near two-week trial in the consumer class action lawsuit against Cox Communications, the jury began deliberations this past Monday to decide whether Cox’s alleged practice of tying premium cable services to rentals of its cable boxes violated the Sherman Act by harming competition in the set-top box market.
Ties that Bind: Trial Date Nears for Cox Communications on the Legality of Linking Access to Premium Cable Services and Proprietary Set-Top Boxes
Trial is set for October 13th on an antitrust class action lawsuit alleging that Cox Communications used its monopoly power over premium cable services in Oklahoma City to force consumers to rent its set-top box. The trial will be conducted before Judge Robin J. Cauthron of the Western District of Oklahoma. The plaintiff, Richard Healy, is seeking nearly $49 million in damages on behalf of Oklahoma City cable subscribers who paid Cox to rent a set-top box from February 1, 2005 through January 9, 2014.
Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit ruled in the long awaited O’Bannon v. NCAA case, which challenged NCAA rules that bar student-athletes from “being paid for the use of their names, images, and likenesses” (NILs) – part of the so-called “amateurism rules.” The Court upheld the district court’s decision finding the NCAA amateurism rules to be an unlawful restraint of trade in violation of the Sherman Act and upheld part of the district court’s remedy which permanently enjoined the NCAA from prohibiting its member schools from giving student-athletes scholarships up to the full cost of attendance at their respective schools. The Ninth Circuit struck down, however, the district court’s second remedy which would have permanently enjoined the NCAA from prohibiting its member schools from giving student-athletes up to $5,000 per year in deferred compensation.
The Ninth Circuit issued an order last Friday staying an injunction from U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken of the Northern District of California in O’Bannon v. NCAA until it reaches a decision on the merits of the appeal.
We have previously posted about United States v. Apple, Inc., a blockbuster trial that ended with Judge Denise Cote of the Southern District of New York concluding that Apple had conspired with five publishing companies to raise the price of e-books. At oral argument before the Second Circuit, the panel hearing Apple’s appeal seemed particularly interested in whether the district court had erred in applying the relatively lenient per se standard rather than the rule of reason, under which the plaintiffs would have had to prove that the anti-competitive injury caused by Apple outweighed any pro-competitive benefits of its conduct.
Allegations of conspiracy to restrain trade and exclusive dealing may read like textbook antitrust claims, but if the allegations are made by a plaintiff who is not an “efficient enforcer” of the antitrust laws, the complaint is vulnerable to a motion to dismiss.
On March 17, 2015, a Ninth Circuit panel consisting of Chief Judge Sidley R. Thomas, Circuit Judge Jay S. Bybee and Senior U.S. District Judge Gordon J. Quist, of the Western District of Michigan heard oral argument in O’Bannon v. NCAA.
After the Ninth Circuit’s decision on January 15, 2015, Major League Baseball maintains its exemption from the antitrust laws. Since the Supreme Court established baseball’s antitrust exemption nearly a century ago in 1922, neither the Supreme Court nor Congress has significantly changed the rule. As we have previously reported, the Supreme Court revisited the antitrust exemption twice since 1922 and both times upheld it on stare decisis grounds and because Congress had implicitly acquiesced to the Supreme Court’s decision by not overturning it. The exemption extends broadly to the entire “business of providing public baseball games for profit between clubs of professional baseball players.”
Several minor league baseball players have filed an antitrust class action against Major League Baseball, alleging that MLB and its teams operate as a cartel to impose restrictive contracts on minor league players. The suit, Miranda v. Selig, alleges that the league’s anticompetitive conduct has artificially lowered wages for the approximately 6,000 minor league baseball players employed by the league, resulting in some minor leaguers earning as little as $3,000 per year.
On November 21, 2014, professors of antitrust law from 15 universities filed an amicus brief in support of the NCAA’s appeal in O’Bannon v. NCAA. Citing their interest in the “proper development of antitrust jurisprudence,” the professors argue that the district court misapplied the rule of reason analysis under the Sherman Act, and that allowing the trial court’s decision to stand could undermine amateurism in college sports and have a broader impact on antitrust law in general.
On November 14, 2014, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) filed a brief in the Ninth Circuit challenging a district court’s injunction on the enforcement of NCAA rules barring college athlete compensation as violating the federal antitrust laws. This blog previously covered O’Bannon v. NCAA.
FTC Commissioner Julie Brill discussed the agency’s competition and consumer protection priorities in her keynote address last Thursday at the ABA’s Antitrust Fall Forum at the National Press Club in Washington. Brill led off with an ode to the antitrust ideals of the Progressive Era – with plenty of references to Justice Brandeis – and focused primarily on health care efforts, emphasizing that the FTC and the Affordable Care Act have the same goals of “promoting high quality and cost-effective health care.”
“Free Sherlock” Litigation Raises Specter of Antitrust Liability for Distributors Cooperating With Intellectual Property Owners
Leslie Klinger, noted Sherlock Holmes scholar and lawyer, has waged a nearly all-out legal offensive against the Estate of Arthur Conan Doyle over the Estate’s assertion of a copyright in connection with certain works featuring the iconic Sherlock Holmes. The lawsuit has been a media darling─reports have appeared in outlets such as Businessweek, The Hollywood Reporter, Reuters, and The New York Times─with the press often emphasizing the David-and-Goliath-like aspects of the litigation. A website entitled Free Sherlock has chronicled the ups and downs of the lawsuit (mostly ups for Klinger), and the litigation also inspired its own Twitter hashtag: #freesherlock. Judge Posner of the Seventh Circuit has stirred the copyright pot with an antitrust analysis that could ensnare distributors that refuse to distribute products that allegedly infringe the rights of an intellectual property owner.
As we noted last month, the DOJ invited public comment last June on whether to modify its consent decrees with the music licensing firms ASCAP and BMI to respond to changes in the digital music business. The DOJ review comes on the heels of decisions issued last year in the Southern District of New York, by Judges Cote and Stanton, holding that the consent decrees did not permit music publishers to partially withhold digital performance rights – which the publishers sold separately, at a premium, to the streaming music service Pandora. The challenge now will likely be convincing the DOJ (and, if necessary, the district court) – that the decrees have already achieved their purposes – or are no longer suited to do so – despite recent finding of coordinated, anticompetitive conduct by some of the key players in the dispute.
Last week we posted a discussion concerning effective antitrust corporate compliance programs, and provided some factors that in-house counsel should consider in developing compliance programs governing employees’ communications with competitors and dealings with customers and suppliers. Today we continue that discussion by addressing the relevant factors in compliance programs concerning monopolization and dominance and price discrimination.
On Friday, August 8, Judge Claudia Wilken of the Northern District of California issued her much-anticipated findings of fact and conclusions of law in O’Bannon v. NCAA.
In June 2014, the DOJ announced that it planned to review the consent decrees with music licensing firms ASCAP and BMI. These consent decrees were initially entered in 1941; the ASCAP consent decree was last amended in 2001 and the BMI consent decree was last amended in 1994. The DOJ asked for comments concerning whether the consent decrees "need to be modified to account for changes in how music is delivered to and experienced by listeners." On August 6, ASCAP and BMI filed public comments regarding the consent decree review.
With DOJ’s Antitrust Division and the FTC ramping up antitrust enforcement, it is critical for companies to take a hard look at their compliance programs and update them on a regular basis to avoid potential antitrust violations and discover antitrust malfeasance early on so a company can have the option of self-reporting and applying for leniency under DOJ’s leniency program. The United States Sentencing Guidelines provide guidance to companies in the organization of their corporate antitrust compliance programs; Guidelines considerations include establishing standards and procedures to prevent and detect criminal conduct and monitoring, auditing and periodically evaluating compliance with the program, including providing anonymous or confidential means for reporting potential breaches. In addition to these threshold requirements, it is important that any antitrust compliance program provide guidance in a number of areas that present potential pitfalls. Today, we discuss guidance on communications with competitors and dealing with customers and suppliers.
Amazon and the publisher Hachette are engaged in a fierce dispute over the pricing of e-books sold by Amazon. At issue is how the profits from the sale of e-books should be divided between Amazon and the publisher and who should bear the impact of Amazon’s discounting of e-books.
On June 27, the trial in O’Bannon v. NCAA concluded following 15 days of testimony. Plaintiffs in this case, former college athletes, including former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, originally filed in the Northern District of California in 2009. They have challenged the NCAA’s longstanding ban on paying licensing fees to college athletes for the use of their names and images in commercial outlets like broadcasts, merchandise, and video games, asserting that this policy constitutes an anti-competitive restraint of trade devoid of any pro-competitive benefits.