e-commerce has its first antitrust case

ArrestThe US Department of Justice’s antitrust division has announced its first successful prosecution against an e-commerce outfit.

David Topkins was accused of conspiring with other poster sellers to manipulate prices on Amazon from September 2013 to Jan. 2014, according to papers filed in a San Francisco federal court.

The DoJ said Topkins had agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to illegally fix the prices of posters he sold online, pay a $20,000 criminal fine and cooperate with its probe. The deal requires court approval.

Topkins used algorithms, for which he wrote computer code, to coordinate price changes, and then share information about poster prices and sales.

The Justice Department said this activity violated the Sherman Act, a federal antitrust law, by causing posters to be sold at “collusive, non-competitive” prices.

Amazon was not charged in the case against Topkins. He might have got off lightly. The charge against Topkins carries a maximum 10-year prison term and $1 million fine, the Justice Department said.