The Trump Justice Department takes on Steven Spielberg, Hollywood monopolies

Guest contributor: Dr. Justin Wood

In a world where the entertainment industry is regularly attacking the moral fiber of the United States with films and music videos that are little more than left-wing propaganda, Hollywood was shocked when the independent film Unplanned took one of the top five spots in the box-office charts. While the media was quick to discharge this as a fluke, Unplanned stayed strong by remaining on the charts for at least one more week in the top 10.

This explosion of support of an independent movie comes amid trouble for Hollywood and the Film Academy, as William Barr, the United States attorney general, appears to be clamping down on the monopoly of Tinseltown.

After Steven Spielberg proposed changing eligibility requirements for the Oscars, the DOJ recently sent a letter to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences  warning them that altering the rules without “procompetitive justification” could violate Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act. This is a significant win for providers such as Netflix and Hulu and an even more significant victory for small production companies, like the producers of Unplanned.

An association of competitors in the film industry – which is what the Academy is – should not be allowed to steamroll its competitors by rigging the free marketplace for their collective benefit, and Barr’s Justice Department deserves praise for having enough foresight to discourage the practice at such an early stage.

But that’s not all. In addition to taking a stand against AMPAS’ predatory suggestions, the DOJ has also begun reviewing the Paramount and ASCAP/BMI consent decrees – antitrust agreements that have, for the most part, prevented the major motion picture companies and music publishers from colluding to concentrate market power further. While these agreements have been untouched for decades, Barr’s DOJ may find it prudent to boost the enforcement of current law. 

The antitrust action on the entertainment industry came about because, similar to AMPAS’ recent actions, the film studios worked together to suppress independent competition. For their part, the music publishers banded their influence together into two monopolies, called ASCAP and BMI, that could, by controlling 90 percent of song performing rights licenses, raise prices to create an environment hostile to small businesses and the local musicians they support. The consent decrees stopped these abusive tactics by banning anti-competitive film practices and creating the blanket license system to prevent price-gouging.

Outlawing movie studios’ collusive licensing arrangements and suppressing of independent theaters has helped open the competitive marketplace for the benefit of independent films like Unplanned. At the same time, the DOJ’s restraints have facilitated independent musicians’ ability to compete and be seen and heard by making it easier for small venues to pay ASCAP and BMI for music licenses.

Although these consent decrees serve a critical purpose and should not be removed or altered, the Barr DOJ can certainly take steps to change the culture further by taking more steps to stop the entertainment industry’s assault on its independent competition.

With movie tickets at the Nickelodeons in the 1920s costing a mere $0.05, ticket prices have skyrocketed 400 fold. Clearly, Hollywood is still an excellent example of illegal price-fixing and a lack of government enforcement of existing laws. Coupled with their attempt to force out independent producers, which a small Texas theater allegedly just fell victim to last year despite the consent decrees being in place, we see a monopoly not just on the material produced, but also on the ideas that people can put into media.

When they think no one is looking, the music industry is also still engaging in much of the same. Just years ago, ASCAP was accused of violating its antitrust agreements by entering into 150 exclusive contracts. Moreover, both ASCAP and BMI continue to use bully tactics against small business owners to get what they want, which includes mafia-like threats, coarse language, and hostile after-hour phone calls that have discouraged many from providing a venue for independent musicians to perform altogether.

America has long decried the violence, sexuality, and profanity that has been present in films, TV, and music for the last 40 years. While we cannot deny people their right to free speech, with anti-trust concerns now abounding there is no reason for the DOJ to look the other way and permit the hate, lust, and profanity billowing out of the entertainment industry to continue unabated.

Attorney General Barr is in the right putting Hollywood on notice for its anti-competitive policies and while his department is in the process of reviewing the entertainment industry’s governmental restraints, he should continue to follow the DOJ’s recent moves with even stronger action. The citizens of the United States deserve the entertainment that represents their values, but they will never receive it if the cartels are allowed to continue suppressing independent competitors. It is time for the politicians in Washington and around the country to quit “feeding the beast” of Tinseltown.

Dr. Justin Wood, Th.d, CJME, is a lead ADR specialist at PhloxADR.

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BizPac Review.

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