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306 U.S. 208

No. 269. Argued January 11, 1939 -- Decided February 13, 1939


1. Where distributors of motion picture films, owning or controlling the copyrights and engaged, interstate, in the business of supplying the films to theaters for exhibition under license contracts, join in making and carrying out an agreement with the owners of the theaters in certain cities to whom their licenses for first run exhibitions of "feature" pictures in those cities are confined, whereby the distributors, in granting licenses to other theaters in the same places for subsequent runs of such films require of them that they observe a minimum price of admission and abstain from presenting a picture so licensed with any other feature picture at the same show, -- the purpose and effect of these restrictions being to maintain the higher prices of the first run theaters and protect them from the competition of the others, --such agreement is an unreasonable restraint of interstate commerce and contrary to the Federal Anti- Trust Act. Pp. 221, 232.

2. The evidence in this case supported the inference that the distributors of the films acted in concert, in making their several agreements with the first run exhibitors, and in imposing the restrictions so stipulated on the subsequent-run exhibitors. P. 221.

3. Upon the production of such proof, the burden rested upon those implicated to explain away or contradict it. P. 225.

4. The production of weak evidence when strong is available leads to the conclusion that the strong would have been adverse. Silence then becomes evidence of the most convincing character. P. 226.

5. Acceptance by competitors, knowing that concerted action is contemplated, of an invitation to participate in a plan, the necessary consequence of which, if carried out, is restraint of interstate commerce, is sufficient to establish an unlawful conspiracy under the Sherman Act. P. 227.

6. A contract between the copyright owner of motion picture films and the owner of motion picture theaters, restraining the competitive distribution of the films in the open market in order to protect the theater owner from competition of other theaters is not protected by the Copyright Act. P. 227.

7. The owner of those motion picture theaters in several cities in which the first runs of copyrighted "feature" pictures were exhibited, taking advantage of its monopoly, secured from each of several copyright owners who distributed such films in interstate commerce, an agreement binding the distributor when licensing subsequent runs of his films at other theaters in those cities to require the licensee to observe a certain minimum admission price and to abstain from exhibiting the picture in a double bill with any other "feature" film. The purpose of the arrangement was to protect the owner of the first-run theaters from competition of subsequent-run theaters, and its effect was to impose undue restraints upon competing theater businesses habitually exhibiting the competitive pictures of different copyright owners, and to enable the favored theater owner to dominate the business of his competitors.

Held: That the contracts were not protected by the Copyright Act, and that, aside from any agreement between the distributors themselves, they were contrary to the Anti-Trust Act. P. 230.

20 F.Supp. 868, affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS, dissenting. MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS and MR. JUSTICE BUTLER join in this opinion.

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

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