Podcasting “Jam To-Day”

How to free Big Tech’s hostages on day one.

Cory Doctorow
5 min readNov 22, 2021


A half-empty jam jar on a table; the jar is labelled with Tenniel’s engraving of the Red Queen wagging her finger at Alice in Through the Looking-Glass. Image: Oleg Sidorenko (modified) CC BY: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

This week on my podcast, I read my Medium column “Jam To-Day,” a look at how slow antitrust enforcement can be, and what regulators can do to offer relief to the hostages in Big Tech’s walled gardens right from day one: through interoperability.


Antitrust is a very slow-moving process. The AT&T breakup in 1982 was the culmination of 69 years’ worth of enforcement action.

1982 was also the year that IBM’s 12-year antitrust sojourn ended, without the breakup the DoJ had been seeking. The IBM case (which wonks call “Antitrust’s Vietnam”) is an instructive lesson in why antitrust is so slow. IBM was a powerful, wildly profitable monopolist. It had a lot at stake in preventing a breakup — and it had a lot of money to spend to defend that stake. Every year, for 12 consecutive years, IBM outspent the entire DoJ Antitrust Division on high-power lawyers who held the DoJ at bay. They held out long enough for Ronald Reagan to be elected and kill the enforcement action, and emerged intact.

It’s a lot easier to prevent monopolies than it is to fight them. By the time a company has a successful monopoly, it has the ammo it needs to defend that monopoly.

Of course, there’s value in antitrust enforcement even if it doesn’t achieve its nominal goal. 12 years in antitrust hell sapped IBM of its killer instinct and made it cautious about attracting enforcers’ wrath anew. That’s why the operating system for the IBM PC came from an obscure startup called “Micro-Soft”: IBM knew the DoJ hated the practice of tying hardware to software. Likewise, IBM just sat back and watched as the market for “IBM PC clones” proliferated: they knew that the DoJ hated their earlier war on “plug compatible” mainframes and peripherals and didn’t want to wake the dragon.

Micro-Soft became Microsoft, a vicious monopolist that spent 7 years in antitrust hell, but it, too, emerged intact from a breakup effort. Nevertheless, the trauma of antitrust investigation (including a humiliating deposition of Bill Gates that went viral on VHS) tamed Microsoft.




Cory Doctorow

Writer, blogger, activist. Blog: https://pluralistic.net; Mailing list: https://pluralistic.net/plura-list; Mastodon: @pluralistic@mamot.fr