The Justice Department has charged three men with a DVD and Blu-ray pricing operation through the Amazon Marketplace. The men — Morris Sutton, Emmanuel Hourizadeh and Raymond Nouvahian — pleaded guilty yesterday to violating criminal antitrust laws under the Sherman Act over a scheme that lasted from 2017 to 2019.
Sutton, Hourizadeh and Nouvahian teamed up (as well as other unnamed parties, at least one of which has also pleaded guilty) in several US states to make buyers pay more for film discs from Amazon’s external Marketplace storefronts. A series of plea deals provide further details about the plot, which led to Sutton selling at least $360,000 worth of DVDs and Blu-rays over the course of two years, while Hourizadeh and Nouvahian raked in at least $1.1 million. The conspirators communicated with each other to eliminate competition and raise prices, a violation of the law that carries up to 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
In a statement, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter called the plea deals part of a larger effort to protect competition in online sales. “As American consumers increasingly turn to e-commerce, it is critical to deter, detect and prosecute crimes that hinder fair and open competition in online marketplaces,” said Kanter. “These charges demonstrate the Antitrust Division’s continued commitment to pursue anticompetitive behavior wherever it occurs.”
Kanter is known as a leading critic of potentially monopolistic online platforms. Before being confirmed as head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division under President Joe Biden, he represented Yelp and Microsoft in cases alleged to be anti-competitive behavior by Google, and along with Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan led antitrust investigations of the companies. Amazon’s price fixing illustrates another opportunity for the department to fight parts of these platforms, even if the companies behind them aren’t directly involved.