Showing 9 of 68 Publications in Barriers to Entry

No More Kings? Due Process and Regulation Without Representation Under the UK Competition Bill

TOTM What should a competition law for 21st century look like? This point is debated across many jurisdictions. The Digital Markets, Competition, and Consumers Bill (DMCC) would change . . .

What should a competition law for 21st century look like? This point is debated across many jurisdictions. The Digital Markets, Competition, and Consumers Bill (DMCC) would change UK competition law’s approach to large platforms. The bill’s core point is to place the UK Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) Digital Markets Unit (DMU) on a statutory footing with relaxed evidentiary standards to regulate so-called “Big Tech” firms more easily. This piece considers some areas to watch as debate regarding the bill unfold.

Read the full piece here.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Streaming, Competition and Contract Terms In Screen Production in Australia

Scholarship Abstract This paper assesses a common view that has surfaced recently in a growing number of Government, industry and academic studies, that first claims streaming . . .

Abstract

This paper assesses a common view that has surfaced recently in a growing number of Government, industry and academic studies, that first claims streaming media services are likely to have adversely affected competition in media markets (both screen and music), and second recommends additional regulation of competition, or market power in streaming media markets. This paper exposes a number of common fundamental mistakes in the economic analysis underlying this view, in order to minimise the risk these mistakes are perpetuated, and adversely affect law and policy.

For this purpose the focus of analysis in this paper is on an assessment of a 2021 report commissioned by Screen Producers Australia (SPA), and prepared by Lateral Economics (LE) that focuses on screen production in Australia. The LE report is fairly representative of analysis that promotes competition law interventions into streaming media markets globally for two reasons. First the LE report is fundamentally based on the hypothesis that there is significant oligopsony market power, indeed LE claims a “profound imbalance in market power”, in this case between buyers and production companies in the screen production market in Australia. Second LE recommends additional regulation. Specifically LE recommends adoption of a UK-style terms of trade regulatory regime for the screen production market in Australia. The regime would regulate screen production contracts, and essentially require collective bargaining between a coalition of screen producers represented by an industry peak body (i.e. SPA) on the one hand, and streaming companies, as well as commercial and public service broadcasters on the other. LE recommends that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission oversee this.

I explore four common general mistakes made by those advocating more regulation of competition in streaming markets, that are clearly manifest in the LE Report. The first common general mistake is lack of clarity about the objective of the additional recommended regulation. As I show the LE report poses multiple narrow goals or objectives for its proposal. This multiplicity of goals begs questions about which goal takes primacy, and how to make trade-offs between them, while the narrow goals chosen neglect significant relevant wider concerns. I instead focus on the Government’s more fundamental, overarching, or higher-level objective, namely, the promotion of overall wellbeing, or social welfare as a whole. This is consistent with the Australian Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (CCA) that declares the general object of the law is “to enhance the welfare of Australians”. In this regard, LE explicitly acknowledges that it fails to address the impact of its proposed UK-style regulation on consumer welfare in Australia, claiming its discussion is only concerned with the relationship between buyers and sellers of screen productions. This is a serious mistake, as consumers will be considerably worse off under LE’s proposal, implying significant harm to the welfare of Australians, and therefore weighing heavily against LE’s recommended policy change.

The second common general mistake made by LE (and others) is that they do not clearly establish the problem their policy recommendation is supposed to solve. The common basis, or reason LE (and others) claim there is a need for additional regulation is the alleged existence of oligopsony market power – in LE’s case an alleged “profound imbalance in market power between buyers and production companies”. On the contrary however as I show there is no imbalance in market power. LE (like others) simply makes mistakes on three issues underlying market power, as follows.

• Market definition. The usual mistake made by those advocating more regulation of competition in streaming media is to adopt a market definition that is too narrow, which increases the likelihood of market power. LE made this mistake by focusing solely on incumbent streaming companies. As a result LE result calculated that the four firm market share of this narrowly defined market in Australia was 70-80% suggesting a high market concentration result. Given free-to-air (FTA), Internet-based protocol television (IPTV), and pay-tv services are however part of the same market, market shares should be calculated for the combined market, not separately as LE does. When one analyses streaming, FTA, IPTV and pay-tv services in one combined market, the level of the four firm market share (or concentration) is clearly very low, between 35% and 40% – much lower than the 70-80% cited by LE. This does not reveal a “profound imbalance” or very high concentration as claimed by LE.

• Barriers to entry. Another common mistake made by LE and others, is the failure to recognize that even if there is high market shares, or high concentration, low barriers to entry would limit any attempt to abuse market power, as such attempted abuse would encourage new entrants into the market, and therefore be disciplined by loss of market share to new entrants. LE does not carefully identify or assess barriers to entry. Relevant media markets however are contestable, with low barriers to entry, as shown by the recent entry of streaming companies into the Australian market.

• Cartel or collusive behaviors. A further common mistake is the failure to recognize that the abuse of oligopsony power requires explicit or tacit cartel or collusive behaviors. However, such behaviours would be hard to sustain in the current market, given the incentives for cartel participants to compete and cheat on any tacit or explicit cartel agreement to capture market share off other cartel participants, and the low barriers to entry. LE provides no evidence of the existence of cartel or collusive behaviors to refute this.

A third general common general mistake made by LE (and others) is to rely on little or nor evidence, and ignore alternative legitimate or efficient business or market explanations for the contractual or commercial behaviours they allege to be problematic. Despite the absence of any reason to be concerned with a profound imbalance of market power I nevertheless review the changes in contract terms that LE describes as evidence of abuse of market power between screen producers as sellers, and the buyers of their productions, including;

1) Price falls, or claims that Australian screen producers’ incomes have fallen; and
2) Scope widening: or claims the rights transferred to buyers by contract has widened to cover worldwide distribution and sequels; and
3) Duration Increases: or claims the rights transferred to buyers by contract has increased, from 2 to 4 year contracts, to 7 and 10 years, and even in perpetuity.

LE however fails to clearly establish factually that these contractual outcomes have actually occurred, and more importantly fails to refute reasonable alternative explanations for them: namely, that the new terms result from legitimate or efficient competitive market arrangements. On price falls for example, I conclude that even if they were to exist, they are most likely due to the more competitive market putting pressures on costs, or prices paid to producers, and that this is good for consumer’s welfare. On the other two alleged problems, contract scope widening and duration increases, again no evidence is presented that even support the claims made, but even if there were, these are likely to be efficient outcomes as the large streaming companies are likely to need broad scope and long duration contracts to justify the higher investment in the projects they fund, as well as in technology and in worldwide marketing and distribution. More efficient terms on scope and duration would also benefit consumers, and any regulation that threatens to alter such terms would be damaging to consumer interests.

A fourth general common mistake made by LE (and others) is their failure to consider whether current law adequately deals with any of the alleged problems or risks with contract terms. I show however that current Australian law in fact already clearly addresses the problems raised by LE. I also show that LE makes the further common related mistake of failing to look at the marginal effect of the proposed UK style law, compared to the current competitive market outcome and regulatory regime. I identify substantial marginal costs and little to no benefits to the regime as proposed by LE. In essence I show the proposed collective bargaining under the law involves the unnecessary legalisation and facilitation of cartel co-ordination on both sides of the market. It will enable buyers and sellers on the two sides of the market to share information and co-ordinate (in effect form an “unholy alliance”) and put up both of their prices, passing the price rises through to the end consumer, while reducing output and quality, further harming consumers. The regime will also add significantly to market transaction costs and regulatory costs, creating inefficiencies. As I show this will have significant adverse consequences for the welfare of Australians.

In short, my high-level cost-benefit, or regulatory impact analysis highlights that the additional regulation of competition in streaming media markets of the kind proposed by LE is very likely to be highly costly to the welfare of Australians. The exact opposite to that predicted by LE will occur. My analysis reveals LE’s proposals are likely to harm competition and create significant harm to the welfare of Australians. LE’s recommendations should not be followed. Instead, reliance should be placed on the highly competitive market that currently exists, with continued reliance on current law to deliver better outcomes for Australians.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

ICLE Brief for 9th Circuit in Epic Games v Apple

Amicus Brief In this brief for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ICLE and 26 distinguished scholars of law & economics argue that the district court in a suit brought by Epic Games rightly found that Apple’s procompetitive justifications outweigh any purported anticompetitive effects in the market for mobile-gaming transactions.

United States Court of Appeals
For the
Ninth Circuit

EPIC GAMES, INC.,
Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant, Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
v.
APPLE, INC.,
Defendant/Counter-Claimant, Appellee/Cross-Appellant

Appeal from a Decision of the United States District Court
for the Northern District of California,
No. 4:20-cv-05640-YGR ? Honorable Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers

BRIEF OF AMICI CURIAE INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR LAW & ECONOMICS
AND SCHOLARS OF LAW AND ECONOMICS
IN SUPPORT OF APPELLEE/CROSS-APPELLANT

 

INTEREST OF AMICI CURIAE

 

The International Center for Law & Economics (“ICLE”) is a nonprofit, non- partisan global research and policy center aimed at building the intellectual foundations for sensible, economically grounded policy. ICLE promotes the use of law & economics methodologies to inform public policy debates and has longstanding expertise in the evaluation of antitrust law and policy.

Amici also include 26 scholars of antitrust, law, and economics at leading universities and research institutions around the world. Their names, titles, and academic affiliations are listed in Addendum A. All have longstanding expertise in, and copious research on, antitrust law and economics.

Amici have an interest in ensuring that antitrust promotes the public interest by remaining grounded in sensible legal rules informed by sound economic analysis. Amici believe that Epic’s arguments deviate from that standard and promote the private interests of slighted competitors at the expense of the public welfare.

INTRODUCTION

Epic challenges Apple’s prohibition of third-party app stores and in-app payments (“IAP”) systems from operating on its proprietary, iOS platform as a violation of the antitrust laws. But, as the district court concluded, Epic’s real concern is its own business interests in the face of Apple’s business model—in particular, the commission charged for the use of Apple’s IAP system. See Order at 1-ER22, Epic Games, Inc. v. Apple Inc., No. 4:20-CV-05640 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 10, 2021), ECF No. 812 (1-ER3–183). In essence, Epic is trying to recast its objection to Apple’s 30% commission for use of Apple’s optional IAP system as a harm to consumers and competition more broadly.

Epic takes issue with the district court’s proper consideration of Apple’s procompetitive justifications and its finding that those justifications outweigh any anticompetitive effects of Apple’s business model. But Epic’s case fails at step one of the rule of reason analysis. Indeed, Epic did not demonstrate that Apple’s app distribution and IAP practices caused the significant market-wide effects that the Supreme Court in Ohio v. Am. Express Co. (“Amex”) deemed necessary to show anticompetitive harm in cases involving two-sided transaction markets. 138 S. Ct. 2274, 2285–86 (2018). While the district court found that Epic demonstrated some anticompetitive effects, Epic’s arguments below focused only on the effects that Apple’s conduct had on certain app developers and failed to appropriately examine whether consumers were harmed overall. This is fatal. Without further evidence of the effect of Apple’s app distribution and IAP practices on consumers, no conclusions can be reached about the competitive effects of Apple’s conduct.

Nor can an appropriate examination of anticompetitive effects ignore output. It is critical to consider whether the challenged app distribution and IAP practices reduce output of market-wide app transactions. Yet Epic did not seriously challenge that output increased by every measure, and Epic’s Amici ignore output altogether.

Moreover, the district court examined the one-sided anticompetitive harms presented by Epic, but rightly found that Apple’s procompetitive justifications outweigh any purported anticompetitive effects in the market for mobile gaming transactions. The court recognized that the development and maintenance of a closed iOS system and Apple’s control over IAP confers enormous benefits on users and app developers.

Finally, Epic’s reliance on the theoretical existence of less restrictive alternatives (“LRA”) to Apple’s business model is misplaced. Forcing Apple to adopt the “open” platform that Epic champions would reduce interbrand competition, and improperly permit antitrust plaintiffs to commandeer the judiciary to modify routine business conduct any time a plaintiff’s attorney or district court can imagine a less restrictive version of a challenged practice, irrespective of whether the practice promotes consumer welfare. See NCAA v. Alston, 141 S. Ct. 2141, 2161 (2021) (“[C]ourts should not second-guess ‘degrees of reasonable necessity’ so that ‘the lawfulness of conduct turn[s] upon judgments of degrees of e?ciency.’”). Particularly in the context of two-sided platform businesses, such an approach would sacrifice interbrand, systems-level competition for the sake of a superficial increase in competition among a small subset of platform users.

Read the full brief here.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Could fixing housing fix everything else, too?

Popular Media If you could wave a magic wand and fix one modern ill, what would it be? Inequality? Pollution? Intergenerational unfairness? The decline of the high . . .

If you could wave a magic wand and fix one modern ill, what would it be? Inequality? Pollution? Intergenerational unfairness? The decline of the high street? Suburban ennui? What if you didn’t have to pick, because there was one social problem that lay at the root of all of them?

Read the full piece here.

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Financial Regulation & Corporate Governance

The housing theory of everything

Popular Media Try listing every problem the Western world has at the moment. Along with Covid, you might include slow growth, climate change, poor health, financial instability, . . .

Try listing every problem the Western world has at the moment. Along with Covid, you might include slow growth, climate change, poor health, financial instability, economic inequality, and falling fertility. These longer-term trends contribute to a sense of malaise that many of us feel about the Western world. They may seem loosely related, but there is one big thing that makes them all worse. That thing is a shortage of housing: too few homes being built where people want to live. And if we fix those shortages, we will help to solve many of the other, seemingly unrelated problems that we face as well.

Read the full piece here.

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Financial Regulation & Corporate Governance

Boris has one last chance at meaningful planning reform – will he take it?

Popular Media Last week gave us a picture of things to come in Britain. First, the Government raised National Insurance contributions by 2.5%. This was ostensibly to pay . . .

Last week gave us a picture of things to come in Britain. First, the Government raised National Insurance contributions by 2.5%. This was ostensibly to pay for “social care”, but the money will mostly go to the NHS, with social care’s problems left largely unaddressed. Then, on Saturday, The Times reported that the Government will abandon many of its plans for planning reform, under pressure from Tory backbenchers and voters.

Read the full piece here.

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Financial Regulation & Corporate Governance

ICLE’s Principles for the Future of Broadband Infrastructure

ICLE Issue Brief The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the resilience of U.S. broadband infrastructure, the extent to which we rely on that infrastructure, and the geographies and communities . . .

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the resilience of U.S. broadband infrastructure, the extent to which we rely on that infrastructure, and the geographies and communities where broadband build-out lags behind. As the extent and impact of the digital divide has been made clearer, there is renewed interest in the best ways to expand broadband access to better serve all Americans.

At ICLE, we would caution policymakers to eschew calls to address the digital divide simply by throwing vast sums of money at the problem. They should, instead, pursue a principled approach designed to encourage entry in new regions, while avoiding poorly managed subsidies and harmful price controls that would discourage investment and innovation by incumbent internet service providers (ISPs). Here is how to do that.

  • To the extent it is necessary at all, public investment in broadband infrastructure should focus on providing internet access to those who don’t have it, rather than subsidizing competition in areas that already do.
  • Highly prescriptive mandates—like requiring a particular technology or requiring symmetrical speeds— will be costly and likely to skew infrastructure spending away from those in unserved areas.
  • There may be very limited cases where municipal broadband is an effective and efficient solution to a complete absence of broadband infrastructure, but policymakers must narrowly tailor any such proposals to avoid displacing private investment or undermining competition.
  • Consumer-directed subsidies should incentivize broadband buildout and, where necessary, guarantee the availability of minimum levels of service reasonably comparable to those in competitive markets.
  • Firms that take government funding should be subject to reasonable obligations. Competitive markets should be subject to lighter-touch obligations.

Read the full brief here.

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Telecommunications & Regulated Utilities

Open Letter by Public Interest Organizations in Favor of Direct EV Sales and Service

Written Testimonies & Filings The signatories of this letter represent a broad range of public interest organizations who urge that any state laws still prohibiting car companies from selling their cars directly to consumers, or opening service centers for those vehicles, be amended to permit direct sales and service of EVs

We, the signatories of this letter, represent a broad range of public interest organizations. Our individual interests include such diverse matters as environmental protection, fair competition, consumer protection, economic growth and workforce development, and technology and innovation. Some of us frequently find ourselves on different sides of public policy debates. However, today we find common ground on an issue of considerable public importance concerning sales of electric vehicles (“EVs”). Specifically, we urge that any state laws still prohibiting car companies from selling their cars directly to consumers, or opening service centers for those vehicles, be amended to permit direct sales and service of EVs

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Innovation & the New Economy

Open Letter by Academics in Favor of Direct EV Sales and Service

Written Testimonies & Filings The signatories of this letter, active or emeritus professors employed at public or private universities in the United States, come from across the political spectrum, and have a wide variety of views on regulation, environmental and consumer protection, and free enterprise as a general matter, but find common ground on the important issue of automotive direct sales.

We, the signatories of this letter, are active or emeritus professors employed at public or private universities in the United States. We specialize in economics, competition policy, market regulation, industrial organization, or other disciplines bearing on the questions presented in this letter. We come from across the political spectrum, and have a wide variety of views on regulation, environmental and consumer protection, and free enterprise as a general matter, but find common ground on the important issue of automotive direct sales.

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Innovation & the New Economy