Today U.S. District Judge Denise Cote ruled against Apple in an antitrust suit, claiming that the company “conspired to raise the retail price of e-books,” NPR reports.
What did Apple allegedly do wrong? Bloomberg summarizes:
The U.S. sued Apple and five of the biggest publishers in April 2012, claiming the maker of the iPad pushed publishers to sign agreements letting it sell digital copies of their books under a model that raised prices and harmed consumers. In that so-called agency model, publishers, not retailers, set book prices, with Apple getting 30 percent.
In other words, Apple and book publishers voluntarily agreed to terms for the sales of ebooks, which customers could then choose to buy or not to buy. Every aspect of this so-called “conspiracy” involved the voluntary exchange of these books on the part of sellers and purchasers.
The claim that the pricing agreements “harmed consumers” is absurd. Nothing that Apple or the publishers did harmed any consumer in any way. Offering a book for sale harms no one. If a customer agrees to buy the book, then the customer, the publisher, and the retailer all benefit from the exchange; if the customer does not agree to buy the book, then none of the parties thereby imposes any harm.
Moreover, the only kind of harm the government has any legitimate business stopping is that caused by physical force, including fraud, extortion, and the like. Voluntarily trading products involves no such force.
Whether the pricing agreements in question resulted in higher prices for certain ebooks—which, incidentally, means higher profits for publishers and a resulting greater ability for publishers to pay writers to produce more texts—is irrelevant from the perspective of legal justice. Book publishers and retailers have a right to seek to maximize their profits and to associate voluntarily with other parties in that aim. Although the competition that results when government consistently protects individual rights often leads to lower prices for better products, nothing is immoral about sellers raising prices when they judge that to be in their interests. And no legitimate grounds exist for making it illegal.
In this case, only one party is guilty of violating people’s rights, and that party is the federal government, which is violating the rights of Apple and book publishers—and, by extension, their customers—to freely negotiate their terms of business.
Shame on the Department of Justice, the agency responsible for bringing this rights-violating suit; and shame on Congress for sustaining the immoral, rights-violating antitrust laws on which the suit is based.
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