Finally, A Comic Book Amicus Brief

Finally, A Comic Book Amicus Brief

San Francisco : CA : USA | Sep 06, 2012 at 11:14 PM PDT
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The usually staid world of antitrust law got a somewhat bizarre treat on Tuesday. Attorney Bob Kohn submitted an amicus brief in the Department of Justice’s case versus Apple and several of the nation’s biggest book publishers. For the rabid antitrust law fan who pours over cases and discusses the merits of fair market competition at cocktail parties, this could be exciting enough.

For everyone else, the fact that Kohn wrote his brief in comic book form was the fascinating part. Business law isn’t usually allowed to get this interesting.

Kohn’s brief isn’t the legal world’s answer to “Dilbert” or “Doonesbury.” It does register a few ticks better than “Wizard of Id” or “Hi and Lois,” though (although something worse than those comic strips is hard to come by—maybe “Marmaduke”).

The case is an epic cage-match of the online publishing world—the Department of Justice takes on Apple, Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, with Amazon looking hungrily on from the stands. The DOJ contends that Steve Jobs and Apple agreed with publishers that basically all new e-book releases would price around $12.99 and $14.99 in the Apple iBookstore. This was an attempt to loosen Amazon’s cheaper prices and the company’s grip on the e-book market, the DOJ says. The DOJ also says the defendants were trying to cause consumers to pay millions more than they would have.

For the average consumer, the DOJ’s success in the lawsuit would mean lower prices on e-books. For Amazon, it would mean lots of money.

Kohn is an aggressive supporter of the defendants and thinks the DOJ’s case is unwarranted. Kohn runs RoyaltyShare and is an expert on antitrust law. He had a 93-page friend-of-the-court brief and chopped it down to 55-pages when he turned it in. That was still too long for U.S. District Judge Denise Cote, who restricted Kohn to just five pages.

Given these limitations, Kohn decided to write in graphic novel form.

He called his daughter, a PhD student at Harvard, for help. She connected him with Julia Alekseyeva, a fellow student in the film department. Kohn wrote the text for the brief, while Alekseyeva did the artwork. Kohn and Judge Kote are both characters. Kohn’s basic argument is that the DOJ erroneously points to low prices as the real goal of antitrust law instead of efficient prices.

Kohn did not release details on when the e-book version would be published. The comic can be found here.

Barry Eitel is based in Oakland, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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