Justice, the American way

The US Department of Justice is upset over South Korea's treatment of Microsoft. It would be interesting to see its logic applied closer to home

In South Korea, Microsoft has been found guilty of abuse of trade — as it has previously in Europe and America — and, as in Europe, been told to unbundle Windows Media Player. Nothing new there. What is new is that the US Justice Department, in a radical departure from international protocol , has issued a press release condemning the Korean regulator for its decision.

Let's see some excerpts.

"The Antitrust Division believes that Korea's remedy goes beyond what is necessary or appropriate to protect consumers, as it requires the removal of products that consumers may prefer."

The removal of Windows Media Player does not make it inaccessible to consumers, just equalises access to it and the competition.

"The Division continues to believe that imposing 'code removal' remedies that strip out functionality can ultimately harm innovation and the consumers that benefit from it."

There was plenty of innovation in media players before Windows Media Player became dominant. There is less now. Equal opportunities enhance competition and innovation. Moreover, with Windows Media Player comes Microsoft's DRM: something which, were it to achieve critical mass, would set back innovation for decades.

"Sound antitrust policy should protect competition, not competitors, and must avoid chilling innovation and competition even by 'dominant' companies."

It is hard to work out why 'dominant' is in quotes. Are we mistaken in assuming that possession of ninety-plus percent of the world's desktops is a measure of dominance? Is dominance only truly defined by 'full spectrum dominance', the official stated policy of the American Department of Defense? That, in case you missed the press release, is complete control of land, air, sea and space — presumably, Microsoft has a similar goal for desktops, servers, homes and pockets, but isn't there yet. They must not be 'chilled'.

"Furthermore, we believe that regulators should avoid substituting their judgment for the market's by determining what products are made available to consumers."

Call us old-fashioned, but we thought that this exactly their job. This Justice Department pronouncement will be good news to the producers and consumers of illicit narcotics in the US who can now ask the Food and Drug Administration to desist in "substituting their judgment for the market's", and bring joy to all those crooks, thieves and swindlers who have had their activities curtailed by the FCC, the SEC or any of the other hundreds of regulators from the American Academy of Family Physicians to the Wyoming Division of Banking. Imagine the reaction of any of these bodies was criticised by the South Korean government.

As Harold Pinter said in his Nobel Prize speech last night, America "no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant." For those readers outside America, the Justice Department's press release will confirm these fears. For those readers within the US: yes, this is how America looks from the outside — even to your friends.

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