Two Barcode Resellers Settle FTC Charges That Principals Invited Competitors to Collude

For Release

Two Internet resellers of UPC barcodes used by retailers for price scanning and inventory purposes, have settled charges that they violated the Federal Trade Commission Act by inviting competitors to join in a collusive scheme to raise the prices charged for barcodes sold online.

Universal product codes are issued by an international association that sets global supply chain standards, and many companies pay the association membership fees to receive UPC barcodes for their products. Some small businesses purchase UPC barcodes through resellers in an online secondary market in order to avoid the cost of joining the association. In the secondary UPC barcode market, competition among resellers has driven prices lower in the past few years.

In separate complaints, the FTC charged that InstantUPCCodes.com and its principal, Jacob J. Alifraghis, and 680 Digital, Inc., d/b/a Nationwide Barcode and its principal, Philip B. Peretz violated the FTC Act by inviting competitors to collude to raise prices for barcodes sold over the Internet.

The FTC complaints charge that on August 4, 2013, Alifraghis of Instant sent a message to Peretz of Nationwide proposing that the two companies, along with a third barcode seller, “Competitor A,” together raise their prices to meet the higher prices charged by another company, “Competitor B.” Instant’s Alifraghis allegedly then sent a similar email invitation to Competitor A, and the next day, Nationwide’s Peretz forwarded Instant’s message to Competitor A, asking for its thoughts on the proposal.

Without agreement from Competitor A, Nationwide and Instant did not take action to raise prices, but allegedly continued to discuss by email a possible price-fixing scheme for barcodes, conditioned on the participation of Competitor A. Competitor A never responded to any email nor did it agree to participate in the proposed scheme. The improper discussions continued through January of this year, stopping only after the FTC began its investigation into the matter.

The Commission charges Instant and Nationwide with inviting an agreement to raise prices in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. The FTC has not alleged, however, that the invitations to collude resulted in an agreement on price or other terms of competition. Because under some circumstances, an agreement on price or other terms or an invitation to collude could potentially constitute criminal conduct, the FTC routinely refers such cases to the Department of Justice to investigate.

The proposed orders setting the complaints against Instant and Nationwide and their respective principals are designed to remedy the anticompetitive conduct. Specifically, the proposed orders bar Instant and Nationwide from:

  • communicating with their competitors about barcode rates or prices;
  • entering into, participating in, maintaining, organizing, implementing, enforcing, inviting, offering, or soliciting an agreement with any competitor to divide markets, allocate consumers, or fix prices; and
  • urging any competitor to raise, fix, or maintain price or to limit or reduce the terms or levels of service they provide.

The Commission vote to accept the proposed consent order for public comment was 5-0. The FTC will publish a description of the consent agreement package in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through August 18, 2014, after which the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent order final. Interested parties can submit written comments electronically about the Instant proposed consent order or the Nationwide consent order or in paper form by following the instructions in the “Invitation To Comment” part of the “Supplementary Information” section.

Interested parties can submit written comments electronically or in paper form by following the instructions in the “Invitation To Comment” part of the “Supplementary Information” section. If you prefer to file your comment on paper, mail your comment to the following address: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite CC-5610 (Annex D), Washington, DC 20580, or deliver your comment to the following address: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Constitution Center, 400 7th Street, SW, 5th Floor, Suite 5610 (Annex D), Washington, DC 20024.

The FTC is requesting that any comment filed in paper form near the end of the public comment period be sent by courier or overnight service, if possible, because U.S. postal mail in the Washington area and at the Commission is subject to delay due to heightened security precautions.

NOTE: The Commission issues an administrative complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000.

The FTC’s Bureau of Competition works with the Bureau of Economics to investigate alleged anticompetitive business practices and, when appropriate, recommends that the Commission take law enforcement action. To inform the Bureau about particular business practices, call 202-326-3300, send an e-mail to antitrust{at}ftc{dot}gov, or write to the Office of Policy and Coordination, Bureau of Competition, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Room CC-5422, Washington, DC 20580. To learn more about the Bureau of Competition, read Competition Counts. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

Contact Information

MEDIA CONTACT:
Mitchell J. Katz
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-2161

STAFF CONTACT:
Matthew Accornero
Bureau of Competition
202-326-3102