As DOJ Reconsiders Watershed Consent Decrees, Claims of Unlawful “Circuit Dealing” Proceed Against Landmark Theaters
Hollywood and the antitrust laws go way back. Indeed, antitrust suits have resulted not only some of the most significant cases in the evolution of American antitrust law, but many of the most consequential developments in the history of the movie industry. Chief among these is United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., 334 U.S. 131 (1948), which held unlawful the then-existing vertical integration of production studios, distributors, and exhibitors (i.e., theaters); it also held various prevailing practices—“block booking” (bundling movie licenses and strong-arming theaters into accepting all of a studio’s movies); “circuit dealing” (obtaining mass licenses for entire theater chains, instead of for individual theaters and films); overbroad “clearances” (selling exclusive exhibition licenses for certain geographical areas); and setting minimum movie-ticket prices—to be impermissibly anticompetitive. By effectively abolishing the so-called “studio system” and requiring the studios to divest themselves of their theater chains, the Paramount case and the resulting consent decrees fundamentally altered the relationships among producers, distributors, and exhibitors, and led to the industry structure that has survived to date.