DOJ files first antitrust case for e-commerce

The Justice Department took a new step into the digital domain on Monday by filing its first ever antitrust charges against someone running an online business.

David Topkins pleaded guilty to conspiring to illegally fix the prices of posters he sold through an Amazon Marketplace store in the latter half of 2013.

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“Today’s announcement represents the division’s first criminal prosecution against a conspiracy specifically targeting e-commerce,” Bill Baer, the assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, said in a statement. “We will not tolerate anticompetitive conduct, whether it occurs in a smoke-filled room or over the Internet using complex pricing algorithms.”

The Justice Department accused Topkins and his unnamed co-conspirators of using an algorithm to coordinate how they would change the price of their posters and then develop computer code to set prices in accordance with the agreement.

“These charges demonstrate our continued commitment to investigate and prosecute individuals and organizations seeking to victimize online consumers through illegal anticompetitive conduct,” FBI special agent in charge David Johnson said in a statement. “The FBI is committed to investigating price fixing schemes and remains unwavering in our dedication to bring those responsible for theses illegal conspiracies to justice.”                    

Topkins has agreed to pay a $20,000 fine and cooperate with the department's ongoing investigation.