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Competition Policy’s Travels through Cyberspace:

EU and US Enforcement of Vertical Restraints in Online Distribution

Caroline Buts


The competition policy regime governing vertical restraints is part of a well-established tradition in both the EU and the US. While it was originally designed within a more classical brick-and-mortar distribution setting, the framework has learnt to accommodate the ever-growing online distribution channel. This article studies literature, policy texts and cases in order to document how the EU and the US have reacted towards vertical restraints in the online environment. Results show that the EU has clearly adopted a stricter attitude towards vertical restraints in e-commerce. The stricter EU approach could result from the general vertical restraints framework, from the vital role of the Internet for market integration as well as from a bias towards avoiding decision errors that fail to prohibit an anti-competitive practice. In contrast, the more ‘liberal’ US style seems to be inspired by Chicago elements and a clear preference towards avoiding errors that would prohibit a pro-competitive agreement. Travels through cyberspace seem to represent a small step for US competition policy and rather a leap for its EU counterpart.

Caroline Buts is assistant Professor at the Department of Applied Economics of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. For correspondence: <>. Suggestions made on earlier versions by Marc Jegers, Willem Boshoff, Leo Van Hove, Julia Wahl, Siska Troost, participants of the 31st Annual Conference of the European Association of Law and Economics (EALE) 2014 and the 3rd International Workshop on the Economics of Competition and Industrial Organization (ERSA) 2015 and one anonymous reviewer are gratefully acknowledged. DOI: 10.21552/core/2017/1/6


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