We are living through the rebirth of the antitrust movement, thanks in large part to giant technology companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Google — and the digital economy they created. Activists have been calling on the government to break up these companies and, with the recent Senate hearing on Live Nation and Ticketmaster, it seems the government may be seriously listening.
Although you may think antitrust laws are something for only lawyers to be aware of, consumers are more likely to learn about antitrust violations from journalists. In fact, Nieman Lab highlighted antitrust as a growing beat this year.
So here’s what you should know about these laws and some resources to help you understand them for your own business coverage.
Where to begin
When it comes to U.S. antitrust legislation, there are three core laws. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 started it all; it was the first national attempt to combat monopolistic business practices. The reason it is called an antitrust law is because the word ‘trust’ was then commonly used to refer to large business conglomerates that sprouted up in the late 1800s. Although some states had passed similar laws before this time, they were unable to regulate the growing number of ‘trusts’ conducting interstate business, prompting the federal government to get involved.
Next, came two pieces of legislation in 1914 that were intended to bolster the Sherman Act. The Federal Trade Commission Act established the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) giving it the powers to investigate corporations for unfair or deceptive practices that stifle competition, as well as seek damages and establish requirements to prevent such practices.
The second piece of legislation was the Clayton Act which outlined prohibited practices such as discriminatory pricing, serving on the board for two competing companies, exclusive dealing and mergers that significantly reduced competition. Unlike the Sherman Act, this Act explicitly states that it does not apply to labor organizations and therefore unions are exempt from the law. Additionally, any violations of this law are pursued through civil action, rather than criminal, by individuals which allow victims to sue for three times the cost of damages.
Since 1890, more than 120 countries have enacted antitrust legislation, although some depart from the U.S.’s core focus on consumer welfare. For example, one goal of South Africa’s antitrust law is to create more opportunities for Black South Africans.
Federal Trade Commission – The FTC has a vast array of resources to help explain antitrust laws to the everyday consumer and keep them informed in all the work they do to keep the market competitive and fair. Start with their ‘Competition Counts’ guide or check out some of their compiled guides for competition in specific industries such as health care and technology. You can even check out details on the lawsuits currently pending against various companies — like Facebook.
American Antitrust Institute – This nonprofit organization was founded in 1998 with the mission to serve the public through ‘research, education, and advocacy on the benefits of competition.’ Their website provides up-to-date information broken down by industry sector, such as airlines, energy, and transportation, so you can stay informed on the latest developments in your beat.
Local sources – Did you know that in addition to federal laws regarding antitrust, each state has its own laws? Although most laws are similar in their intention, there are some variances state by state. Get to know the specifics of your state using this FindLaws guide as a jumping-off point.