The Bundeskartellamt, Germany’s federal cartel office, has imposed a fine amounting to millions of euros against three television studios for unlawfully exchanging important information. It could not be proven that illegal agreements existed.
GRP Rainer Lawyers in Cologne, Berlin, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart and London conclude: Three television studios had apparently been keenly exchanging information between 2011 and 2014. According to media reports, they were said to have exchanged, among other things, sensitive information concerning prices, the content of offers and other issues relevant from the perspective of competition law. It could not be proven that the companies had entered into illegal arrangements. Having said that, the competition watchdog took the view that the extensive exchange of information itself represented a violation of antitrust law and therefore imposed fines against two studios totaling 3.1 million euros. The studios’ strong willingness to cooperate was taken into account in determining the extent of the fine. As the key witness in the case, the third studio involved did not receive a fine.
The case shows that it is not necessary for illegal agreements concerning prices, offers, delivery times etc. to have been entered into for a violation of antitrust law to have been committed. Keenly exchanging sensitive information may itself be sufficient to give cause for concern, as this alone can significantly hinder free competition.
Violations of antitrust law or competition law can be severely punished, and this is not necessarily limited to the fines imposed by the regulatory authorities. It is possible in many cases for companies affected by illegal agreements or other infringements to assert claims for damages as well. Formal written warnings and injunction suits are also potential consequences.
It ought to be noted here that violations of antitrust law or competition law do not have to be obvious but can instead occur completely unwittingly. Even apparently insignificant details in agreements can give rise to a violation and thus entail undesirable consequences. That is why it is advisable in a lot of cases to have lawyers who are versed in the fields of antitrust law and competition law draft or review agreements. Competent legal advice can prove to be equally indispensable when fending off claims based on alleged infringements. The same can be said when claims are to be enforced against other companies in response to violations of competition law.
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