Price fixers taped up

The European Commission has fined Sony, Fuji and Maxell for fixing the prices of videotapes.

The European Commission has fined Sony, Fuji and Maxell €74,790,000 for fixing the prices of professional videotapes sold to customers in Europe, in violation of the EC Treaty’s ban on cartels and restrictive business practices.

Between 1999 and 2002, Sony, Fuji and Maxell raised or controlled prices through a series of regular meetings and other illicit contacts.

Sony’s fine was increased by 30 per cent to €47,190,000 because it obstructing the Commission’s investigation during on-site inspections at its premises. Fuji’s and Maxell’s fines were reduced by 40 per cent and 20 per cent, to €13,200,000 and €14,400,000, respectively, because they co-operated with the investigation under the Commission’s 2002 Leniency Notice.

The Commission started an investigation on its own initiative with surprise inspections, carried out at the premises of Sony’s, Fuji’s and Maxell’s European subsidiaries in May 2002. Abundant evidence of cartel activities was found.

However, a Sony employee refused to answer oral questions asked by the Commission’s inspectors, in breach of Sony’s obligation to answer, while another Sony employee was found to have shredded documents during the inspection. Fuji and, at a later stage, Maxell, co-operated with the Commission and submitted additional evidence.

The cartel covered the two most popular professional videotape formats at the time: Betacam SP and Digital Betacam, which in 2001 were worth around €115 million in sales in the European Economic Area (EEA).

TV stations and independent producers of TV programmes and advertising films are the main customers of these professional videotapes.

Sony, Fuji and Maxell, with a combined share of more than 85 per cent of the professional video tape market, organised three successful rounds of price increases and endeavoured to stabilise prices whenever an increase was not possible. They also regularly monitored the implementation of the price agreements.