Justice Dept. Paints First E-Commerce Prosecution

Justice Dept. Paints First E-Commerce Prosecution

The Justice Department’s Antitrust Division recently announced that David Topkins, a former executive of an e-commerce seller of posters, prints and framed art, has been charged with price fixing in violation of the Sherman Act. The division’s first online marketplace prosecution resulted from an ongoing antitrust investigation into price fixing in the online wall décor industry.

Per the announcement, from September 2013 to about January 2014, Topkins and his co-conspirators fixed the prices of certain posters sold on Amazon Marketplace. They achieved this by “adopt[ing] specific pricing algorithms for the sale of certain posters with the goal of coordinating changes to their respective prices and wrote computer code that instructed algorithm-based software to set prices in conformity with this agreement.”

The one-count charge was filed in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California in San Francisco. Subject to court approval, Topkins has agreed to pay a $20,000 criminal fine and cooperate with the ongoing investigation. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and a $1 million fine for individuals. The fine, however, can increase.

Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer from the division stated, “We will not tolerate anticompetitive conduct, whether it occurs in a smoke-filled room or over the Internet using complex pricing algorithms. American consumers have the right to a free and fair marketplace online, as well as in brick and mortar businesses.”




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