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Once, in late 2009 through early 2010, Apple tried to save the old-fashioned publishing industry . Now government lawyers, having convinced a court that this was an antitrust violation , have revealed what they want to do about it.
They want to load Apple down with antitrust cops—and turn Apple itself into an antitrust cop.
The government proposal , if approved by Judge Denise Cote, would saddle Apple with not one but two new antitrust enforcement offices that the tech company would have to pay for. Under the proposal, which comes from both the federal government and a number of states, Apple would have to have both an Antitrust Compliance Officer and an External Compliance Monitor, neither responsible to Apple’s executives and the latter chosen by the court on the federal and state governments’ recommendation. Both would be empowered to gather information on the company. The compliance officer’s duties would include providing logs of any communications between an iBookstore employee and multiple ebook publishers; the external monitor would get to question any Apple employee and demand changes in Apple’s antitrust compliance policies. The external monitor's authority would span the full range of Apple's work.
On top of that, government officials themselves would get access to Apple’s records.
Another part of the government proposal would draft Apple to enforce the very antitrust laws that have subjected it to all this. If Apple encounters evidence that content suppliers are working together to set their terms in ways that violate the antitrust laws, Apple would have to turn them in. And that doesn’t just apply to ebook publishers: it applies to all kinds of content, even apps.
Apple characterizes the government proposal as harsh and punitive. Harsh it is, but punitive, no. The fundamental meaning of antitrust law is the subordination of businesses to government purposes, under government control. This proposal takes advantage of Apple’s antitrust violation to intensify that control. The point isn’t to hurt Apple, though surely it will: the point is to give government more power to control production and trade.
And that hurts Apple, its customers, and in the long run, all of us.