Antitrust violations are “crimes” committed by business entities that injure both competing businesses and the consumer by artificially inflating or fixing prices.
Antitrust laws came into national prominence in the late nineteenth century with the rise of the giant industrial monopolies. Two types of monopolies, horizontal and vertical, were felt to be particularly harmful to competition. In a horizontal monopoly, a single entity owns all or an unreasonable percentage of the firms competing in the same business, such as all the telephone or oil companies. In a vertical monopoly, a single entity owns all or an unreasonable percentage of all levels of business within a single industry, for example, all the forests, logging firms, mills, printing plants, and newspapers.
Through the exercise of its power to regulate interstate commerce, Congress has enacted the most sweeping of antitrust regulations in the Sherman Antitrust Act. Because of the great size of the businesses engaged in antitrust or anti-competitive practices as well, the federal government has taken the lead in enforcing against these types of unfair business practices.
Most antitrust statutes are enforced in two ways: the state attorney general can sue on behalf of the state in order to correct the unfair practice, either by obtaining an injunction prohibiting the offensive practice or by ordering fines or other redress to be paid or otherwise addressed to the consumers; the other way is by a private right of action, whereby consumers themselves or competing businesses sue to recover for damages or injuries suffered as a result of the offending behavior. Some states permit civil charge only; some permit civil and criminal charges.