Looking At The Redbox Antitrust Fight
from the is-it-an-antitrust-issue-or-not? dept
Law.com has a nice article detailing the legal issues involved in the battles between Redbox and the various movie studios. The main question is whether or not it’s an antitrust violation on the part of the studios to block distributors, wholesalers and retailers from selling DVDs to Redbox. The studios want (a) a revenue share from Redbox (b) Redbox not to offer new release DVD movies for rental and (c) Redbox not to sell used DVDs. The reasons are pretty obvious: Redbox is a much more competitive offering. Since it’s a lot less labor intensive, it’s able to offer the DVDs for much less (both rental and sale), and the movie studios are freaking out, because in their minds, their old revenue streams should never be allowed to decrease.
The statements from the studios on the dispute is incredibly disingenuous:
“The real complaint is Fox won’t sell DVDs to Redbox on the terms Redbox demands, and that is not in our view an antitrust violation,” said Watson, an antitrust expert who has teamed with Yosef Riemer, a litigation partner in Kirkland & Ellis’ New York office, in representing Fox, part of News Corp.’s Fox Filmed Entertainment. “There’s nothing in the law, antitrust or otherwise, that says a seller must sell its product at the price that the buyer demands on the date the buyer demands and through the distribution channel that the buyer demands.”
Indeed, Watson is correct that no seller needs to offer the product at the price the buyer demands, but that’s not what’s being disputed here at all. Clearly, prior to Fox and some of the other studios throwing their hissy fit, the distributors had no problem selling DVDs to Redbox at the prices Redbox thought were reasonable. The studios sold the movies to the distributors at the usual price, and the distributors sold them to Redbox at the usual price. Everyone should be happy.
But… what happened now is that these studios (Fox, Universal and Warner Bros.) told not just the distributors (Ingram and Video Product Distribution) but also retailers like Best Buy and Wal-Mart to not sell to Redbox. That’s restraint of trade. The studios have every right not to sell videos to whomever they want — but those distributors and retailers can then sell to whomever they want. The studios should have no say in the downstream sales of the videos once they’ve been sold to the distributor, wholesaler or retailer. That’s where the antitrust issue is. The studios are successfully controlling downstream sales.
The studios are either being disingenuous or are just playing dumb when they claim that there’s no antitrust violation because end users can still rent movies from Blockbuster or Netflix. But, that’s defining the wrong “user” for the market in question. The market is in being able to buy from the distributor/wholesaler, and the “customer” is a retailer like Redbox. And these studios have stopped that customer from being able to make a perfectly legitimate purchase. That’s the antitrust issue, and it’s amazing that the studios think anyone will believe their false market definition or this bizarre claim that this about Redbox demanding some special price. It’s not. Hopefully the judge recognizes that and doesn’t fall for the studios simply making stuff up.