Restrictive Website Rules Found to Be Anticompetitive
By Scott M. Mendel and Michelle S. Taylon
In Realcomp II, Ltd. v. FTC (6th Cir. April 6, 2011), the Sixth Circuit upheld the Federal Trade Commission’s conclusion that Realcomp, a Detroit area multiple listing service, violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act by adopting rules restricting the ability of its broker members to advertise discounted brokerage services. While none of Realcomp’s website restrictions eliminated discount brokerage services or information regarding such services, they made such information less accessible and more costly to obtain. That was enough for the court to conclude that Realcomp’s policies had an actual anticompetitive effect based on the decline in the share of listings accounted for by discount listings.
The Realcomp decision can have significant implications for businesses, especially joint ventures, considering rules that restrict the information that can be disseminated over their websites. Rules that prevent, restrict, or make more costly the dissemination of information relating to discounted services must be reviewed carefully to determine their potential for anticompetitive effects.