U.S. Mulls Chan­ging Mo­vie Rules for the Big Screen

L'Opinion - - Protection Sociale Des Indépendants -

MIDDLE RI­VER, Md.—On a moon-filled Sa­tur­day night, D. Ed­ward Vo­gel stood in the pro­jec­tion room of Ben­gies Drive-In Theatre, sur­veying a field of cars that tur­ned out for a chil­ly No­vem­ber triple fea­ture.

“How ma­ny think we should re­turn ‘Bo­he­mian Rhap­so­dy’ next week? Flash your head­lights,” Mr. Vo­gel said over the sound sys­tem du­ring an in­ter­mis­sion. Se­ve­ral cars did.

The Ben­gies, ow­ned by the Vo­gel fa­mi­ly since it ope­ned in sub­ur­ban Bal­ti­more in 1956, re­tains the dé­cor and at­mos­phere of that era, com­plete with vin­tage trai­lers and a night­ly ren­di­tion of the na­tio­nal an­them. Mr. Vo­gel, 60 years old, does his own ne­go­tia­tions with mo­vie stu­dios for what he will show each week. “There is less wiggle room than ever,” he said, with stu­dios pu­shing for ever­more fa­vo­rable terms. “We are on pins and needles to book mo­vies.”

These days his wor­ries ex­tend to Wa­shing­ton, D.C., where the Jus­tice De­part­ment is consi­de­ring whe­ther to wind down the le­gal de­crees that have go­ver­ned mo­vie dis­tri­bu­tion and li­mi­ted strong-arm stu­dio le­ve­rage for 70 years, since the Su­preme Court dis­mant­led Hol­ly­wood’s mo­no­po­ly over the ci­ne­ma bu­si­ness. The de­crees lar­ge­ly prevent stu­dios from ow­ning mo­vie thea­ters or im­po­sing one­rous terms on thea­ters, such as set­ting mi­ni­mum ti­cket prices or de­man­ding screen time for a stu­dio’s en­tire slate of films.

“All of it has me kind of flip­ped out,” Mr. Vo­gel said.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment’s review of the so-cal­led Pa­ra­mount de­crees, na­med af­ter the lead de­fen­dant in the case, is the hi­ghest-pro­file part of a broa­der ini­tia­tive to ter­mi­nate ol­der an­ti­trust le­gal set­tle­ments that time has pas­sed by. Un­like mo­dern set­tle­ments, which sun­set af­ter a li­mi­ted per­iod, ma­ny ear­lier de­crees had no end date and re­main on the books.

The de­part­ment has pro­po­sed en­ding do­zens of set­tle­ments, in­clu­ding those ad­dres­sing mar­kets for ty­pe­wri­ters, hor­se­shoes and ice-cream cones.

The de­part­ment hasn’t yet de­ci­ded whe­ther to ask a court to can­cel or mo­di­fy the mo­vie de­crees, but it has no­ted the film in­dus­try has chan­ged great­ly since the court bat­tles of the 1930s and 40s, when most thea­ters were single-screen pa­laces and consu­mers didn’t watch mo­tion pic­tures on te­le­vi­sion, much less on strea­ming ser­vices like Net­flix.

“We should not ignore the fact that there have been si­gni­fi­cant tech­no­lo­gi­cal and mar­ket changes af­fec­ting how Ame­ri­can consu­mers watch mo­vies and how film­ma­kers dis­tri­bute such mo­vies,” said Jus­tice De­part­ment an­ti­trust chief Ma­kan Del­ra­him.

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