Another Slice Out of Apple

If Apple’s pending appeal of last year’s ebook antitrust verdict fails, the company will have to pay $450 million in “consumer relief,” according to class-action lawyers for the plaintiffs.

“Consumers will likely receive more than twice the amount they were overcharged,” crowed one of the lawyers, “a resolution that furthers the Sherman Act’s goals of compensating injured consumers and deterring violations of the antitrust laws.”

Hold on a minute. “Injured consumers”? Just where is the injury here? Each and every purchaser of an ebook from Apple paid exactly the price he or she chose to pay. There were no shenanigans with credit card charges or any other form of theft or fraud. Nothing that belonged to any buyer was taken from them. So there simply was no legal injury.

Might some buyers have liked to pay less? Perhaps. But the ebooks’ publishers charged what they charged, and the buyers paid what they paid, and that should have been the end of it. Consumers are not “overcharged” when they pay more than the price they wish for. The legal system should not be permitted to use consumers’ arbitrary desires as a standard for measuring legal injury.

But this is the peculiar evil of antitrust laws. They authorize courts to reject the verdict of the free market and substitute wish-fulfillment on a massive scale. In this case, consumers are in line to receive double the difference between their fantasies and reality, all funded by an innovative and widely admired company that did nothing wrong.

If and when another flood of antitrust blood money comes spilling out of federal court and into consumers’ pockets (see here and here for other examples), each recipient should think twice about whether they deserve a penny of it.