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As observers wait to see whether Biden-era regulators will give the thumbs up or thumbs down on mega media mergers, the new administration made an under-the-radar move on the antitrust front this week by weighing in on a petition from Comcast to the Supreme Court.
Back in Feb. 2020, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court and primed a trial against Comcast for monopolizing local TV ad sales. Viamedia is taking on the cable TV giant and is specifically upset at how Comcast has allegedly leveraged control over “interconnects” — local clearinghouses that serve pay-TV providers on the local ad front. According to the suit, Comcast told Viamedia’s clients that they’d only get access to the interconnects if they ended their relationship with Viamedia and bought services from Comcast instead.
Comcast wants the high court to take a look, and in December, the justices asked the Acting Solicitor General for the government’s views. That’s typically a very strong sign of interest in taking up the case.
In a brief filed on May 25 (read here), Acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar explains why the Supreme Court shouldn’t grant review while dodging a firm view of the key issue in this case — when an entity’s refusal to deal becomes actionable from an antitrust perspective. That topic had the Trump-era DOJ telling the lower appellate court what the test should be (“no economic sense”), but here, it’s enough that the 7th Circuit justified itself no matter what the criteria. In other words, an antitrust trial against Comcast gets a quasi-endorsement.
In other news:
—The tech industry is suing Florida over recently enacted legislation that fines social media companies for “willfully deplatforming” political candidates and taking down content from a “journalistic enterprise.” The complaint says compelling speech like this on private platforms is an affront to the First Amendment, and the plaintiffs also have some choice words for how the legislation exempts those that own and operate theme parks. An obvious reference to Disney and Universal, Republican sponsor told one local newspaper last month it was meant to ensure Disney Plus “isn’t caught up in this.”
—The Philadelphia 76ers may indeed win the NBA title this year, but its star player Joel Embiid has been blocked by CNBC reality star Marcus Lemonis over the trademark, “Trust the Process.” Here’s a decision on Wednesday from the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board.
—An FTC lawyer has won writing credits on a Liam Neeson movie. Nick May sued Ozark co-creator Mark Williams a year ago and now has settled. The settlement agreement also confirms May will be receiving net profits (if there are any) from Blacklight. Here’s the full settlement.
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