April 1, 2016

UK Payment Systems Regulator Issues “Final Guidance” Heralding Major Changes In Operation Of Payment Systems

A View from Constantine Cannon’s London Office

By Yulia Tosheva and Irene Fraile

The UK Payment Systems Regulator (“PSR”) has published a final guidance on its approach to monitoring compliance with the EU Interchange Fee Regulation (“IFR”), which is changing the way payment systems operate in Europe.

The PSR, which was launched in April 2015, is an independent economic regulator that oversees the UK payments industry.  The PSR is the first regulator of its kind in the world.

The final guidance, which was issued on March 24, 2016, is of particular interest to payment card schemes, banks and merchants as it is the first document to shed light on the practical application of the IFR in the UK.  In view of the maturity and importance of the UK payment systems industry (currently valued at £75 trillion), the PSR’s guidance may assist other EU regulators in their implementation of the IFR.  It contains detailed provisions on the powers of the PSR to conduct investigations and to give directions, information-gathering, dispute resolution, and penalties for non-compliance.

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    March 21, 2016

    The Antitrust Week In Review

    Here are some of the developments in antitrust news this past week that we found interesting and are following.

    EU may investigate online content providers over cross-border trade.  European antitrust regulators are poised to investigate allegations that two out of three online content providers may be blocking consumers in another EU country from buying their products or services.  The findings by the European Commission came after a year-long investigation into barriers to cross-border trade in electronics, clothing, shoes and digital content in the 28-country bloc during which it surveyed more than 1,400 companies on their business practices.  The EU competition authority said 68 percent of providers of digital content, such as TV shows, films, music and sports, block consumers located in other EU countries, a practice known as geoblocking.

    Freedom picks Digital First Media to buy O.C. Register, Tribune Publishing’s bid rejected.  Freedom Communications has chosen Digital First Media to buy its two newspapers because it no longer believes Tribune Publishing can close the deal, according to an attorney for the bankrupt company.  The Los Angeles Times owner had been the top bidder, but its $56-million cash offer to buy the Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise hit a roadblock late Friday when a U.S. District Court judge approved a temporary restraining order to stop the sale.   The U.S. Department of Justice sought a restraining order just hours after Tribune was named the top choice, citing antitrust concerns that the sale would harm competition and allow Tribune, which also owns the San Diego Union-Tribune, to raise prices to advertisers and subscribers in Orange and Riverside counties.

    EU regulators say antitrust exemption for insurers not needed.  A six-year scheme which exempts insurers from antitrust rules under certain conditions is no longer necessary, European Union regulators said on Thursday, following a two-year review.  Adopted in April 2010, the insurance block exemption regulation sets out the conditions under which insurers can exchange information on specific risks without running foul of the EU’s strict competition rules.  The European Commission said the system may not be required any more as a study showed fewer than 50 institutionalized pools may be covered by the exemption.

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      March 14, 2016

      The Antitrust Week In Review

      Here are some of the developments in antitrust news this past week that we found interesting and are following.

      EU Watchdog Could Expand Criteria to Initiate Merger Reviews.  European Union antitrust regulators are considering expanding the criteria that requires companies to seek merger approval in an effort to ensure deals involving start-ups producing key data or products do not slip through the net.  Under current rules, the European Commission only examines deals involving companies that exceed a minimum revenue threshold, meaning that some businesses have escaped scrutiny from the EU watchdog.  For example, Facebook’s $19 billion bid for mobile messaging start-up WhatsApp was not examined by the EU competition authority until the case was referred to it by national antitrust agencies two years ago.

      Supreme Court Declines to Hear Apple’s Appeal in E-Book Pricing Case.  The Supreme Court has refused to review an appeals court’s determination that Apple conspired with book publishers to raise the prices of digital books.  The court’s order puts into effect a $450 million settlement that Apple had agreed to pay if it lost the case.  E-book buyers will receive $400 million in cash and credits, and lawyers involved in the case will get $50 million.

      Merger ‘Tsunami’ Taxes Resources of U.S. Antitrust Regulators.  U.S. antitrust enforcers are dealing with a “tsunami” of high-value, complicated mergers that have stretched their resources, according to the heads of the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission.  Some of the increased volume of mergers has been attributed to investors who have reacted to the improving economy.

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        March 7, 2016

        The Antitrust Week in Review

        Here are some of the developments in antitrust news this past week that we found interesting and are following.

        Europe’s Antitrust Enforcer on Google, Apple and the Year Ahead.  Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s competition commissioner, is expected to move ahead in the coming months in the antitrust case she filed against Google, in which she has accused the company of favoring some of its own services in search results over those of rivals.  The current charges, listed in a statement of objections, are just one in a number of competition-related headaches that the search engine may face this year in Europe.  Ms. Vestager is also investigating whether Apple received an unfair tax deal from Ireland, and Amazon from Luxembourg, that broke Europe’s state aid rules.

        News Corp to Settle In-store Promotions Litigation for $280 Million.  News Corp has announced that it has agreed to pay $280 million to resolve claims that it monopolized the market for in-store promotions at more than 50,000 retail stores across the United States.  The settlement with Rupert Murdoch’s company abruptly ended a trial that had begun when jurors in Manhattan federal court heard opening arguments in what had been a $2 billion lawsuit.  As part of the settlement with the plaintiffs, who consist of consumer packaged goods companies including Dial Corp and Kraft Heinz Co, News Corp said it will pay $250 million to settle the case and another $30 million to resolve related claims.

        Facebook Faces German Antitrust Investigation.  Facebook became the latest American technology company to face antitrust hurdles in Europe after the German competition authority opened an investigation into whether the company has abused its dominant position in social networking.  The move puts Facebook, which is used by many of Europe’s 500 million citizens, alongside other United States technology companies, like Google and Microsoft, which have also faced antitrust investigations into their activities across the region.  European officials have taken a tough stance on how American tech giants operate across the 28-member bloc, as many politicians here remain concerned that these companies often dominate many aspects of people’s digital lives, including social networking, online search and e-commerce.

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          March 2, 2016

          European Union Begins Looking at Comprehensive Regulation of Virtual Currencies

          A View from Constantine Cannon’s London Office

          By Yulia Tosheva, Richard Pike and James Ashe-Taylor

          The European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (“ECON”) took a tentative first step toward the regulation of virtual currencies regulation of virtual currencies last week with the issuance of a draft report on virtual currencies.

          The regulation of virtual currencies is already underway to a greater or lesser extent in a number of jurisdictions including the UK and Japan.

          The EU Initiative

          The ECON report stresses that while virtual currencies are associated with various risks, they do have the potential to contribute positively to consumer welfare and economic development by means of:

          Dramatically lowering transaction costs for payments and transfers of funds, possibly well below 1%, compared to 2 to 4% for traditional online payment systems, and to more than 7% on average for the cross-border transfer of remittances, hence potentially reducing global total costs for remittances by up to 20 billion euros;

          Reducing the cost of access to finance even without a traditional bank account;

          Enhancing the speed and resilience of payment systems thanks to the inherently decentralised architecture of distributed ledger technology (“DLT”);

          Using such systems to develop online micropayment systems that could replace some of the present data-hungry online business models that significantly challenge individual privacy; and

          Allowing different types of traditional and innovative payment mechanisms, from credit cards to mobile solutions, to merge into one secure and user-friendly application.

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