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EU fines NBCUniversal for restricting film merchandise sales

FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019 file photo, European Commissioner designate for Europe fit for the Digital Age Margrethe Vestager answers questions during her hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels. European Union Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager on Thursday Jan. 30, 2020, slapped NBCUniversal and other companies owned by parent Comcast Corp. with a 14.3 million euro ($15.8 million) penalty for anti-competitive licensing and distribution practices that are illegal under the bloc's rules.  (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019 file photo, European Commissioner designate for Europe fit for the Digital Age Margrethe Vestager answers questions during her hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels. European Union Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager on Thursday Jan. 30, 2020, slapped NBCUniversal and other companies owned by parent Comcast Corp. with a 14.3 million euro ($15.8 million) penalty for anti-competitive licensing and distribution practices that are illegal under the bloc's rules. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

BRUSSELS – European Union authorities have fined NBCUniversal for restricting cross-border sales of “Jurassic Park" toys, “Minions” school bags, “Big Lebowski" mugs and other licensed film merchandise, in the bloc's latest regulatory effort to enforce the competition rules governing its single market.

Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager on Thursday slapped a 14.3 million euro ($15.8 million) penalty on NBCUniversal and other companies owned by parent Comcast Corp. for “anti-competitive licensing and distribution practices” that are illegal under the bloc's rules.

Vestager said NBCUniversal contracts banned licensees from selling products in some countries and in some cases put limits on how they could sell online.

“A department store in Spain couldn't sell ‘E.T.' pyjamas from a Belgian manufacturer – because that manufacturer was banned from selling into Spain," Vestager said. “The extra-terrestrial may have made it all the way to Earth – but he was stopped in Spain because of a contractual restriction."

The result was that “consumers lost out on choice, and possibly also on lower prices,” she said.

NBCUniversal carried out the illegal behavior for more than six years, beginning at the start of 2013 as the company ramped up its licensing efforts ahead of the launch of “Despicable Me 2,” the EU said. It ended in September 2019, when the company dropped all its sales restrictions.

“The resolution of this matter is a positive step for the company’s continuing European operations,” Universal Brand Development, a division of NBCUniversal, said in a statement.

The company got a 30% discount on its fine because it cooperated with authorities. Vestager has taken similar action against Nike and Hello Kitty owner Sanrio.