The Sherman Act of 1890 was the first federal antitrust legislation. It is brief and to the point. Section 1 forbids contracts, combinations, or conspiracies in restraint of trade. Section 2 forbids monopolizing behavior. Both sections can be enforced through the civil courts or by criminal proceedings. On conviction, corporate punishment can be in the form of fines not to exceed $10 million. Individuals face a felony conviction and may be fined up to $350,000 or imprisoned for a period of time up to 3 years. Firms and individuals violating the Sherman Act also face the possibility of paying triple damages to injured parties who bring civil suits.

The Sherman Act is often criticized as being too vague. Even with landmark decisions against the tobacco, powder, and oil trusts, enforcement has been sporadic. On the one hand, businesspeople claim not to know what is legal; on the other, the Justice Department is sometimes criticized as being ignorant of monopoly-creating practices and failing to act in a timely fashion. Despite its shortcomings, the Sherman Act remains one of the government's main weapons against anticompetitive behavior.

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