DETROIT (10 December 2003) – The law firm of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C. achieved an important victory in a Manhattan U.S. District Court last week, lifting a September 30, 2003, ban by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) against Hollywood’s award season movie “screeners.” The U.S. District Judge found likelihood that the MPAA was guilty of “anti-competitive conduct” and “unreasonable restraint of trade” under the antitrust laws.
Acting on behalf of a group of independent filmmakers and their non-profit trade associations, Miller Canfield obtained a restraining order, which has been converted into a preliminary injunction, which reverses the ban and allows studios and their subsidiaries and sibling corporations to send out promotional copies of movies as a marketing tool during the awards season.
Explaining the ruling, the lead Miller Canfield attorney on the case, Gregory L. Curtner, said “It is a victory for independent filmmakers, and for consumers who will continue to have access and awareness of the broadest possible range of movies.” He continues, “The Court enforced the fundamental law of the United States, embodied in the Sherman Act, in favor of free and open competition. Consistent Supreme Court authority holds that naked restraints of trade are not permitted and cannot be justified, even if the reasons offered for the conspiracy are socially beneficial.”
Screeners are especially important to smaller budget, independent films, which have smaller publicity budgets and shorter theatrical runs. The purported purpose of the ban was to prevent one alleged source of piracy of motion pictures. Independent films, such as In the Bedroom and American Beauty, have been very successful during the awards season, in large part due to the opportunity for exposure afforded by the screeners.
With the awards season in swing and the ban nullified, Curtner warns that studios could face further legal action including injunctions and damages should they fail to withdraw from the conspiracy and continue the ban. He’s watching to see who’s naughty and who’s nice. The MPAA says it plans to appeal the Judge’s decision. In the interim, some studios are rushing to send out screeners in time for the Hollywood Foreign Press’s Golden Globe nominations announcement on December 18.
Among the films released this year by the independent filmmakers represented are: Thirteen, Laurel Canyon, The Station Agent, 21 Grams, American Splendor, and The Company.
In addition to Curtner of Miller Canfield’s Ann Arbor, Michigan and New York offices, the legal supporting cast for the plaintiff included attorneys Rick Juckniess, Kimberly K. Kefalas, and Atleen Kaur – all of the Ann Arbor office – and Susan I. Robbins of the New York office. Eric V. McLand in Ann Arbor was the legal assistant.
The 300-attorney law firm of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C. is Michigan’s largest law firm and one of the top firms in the country. It was established in Detroit in 1852 and has offices in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Howell, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Monroe, and Troy, Michigan. Other offices are located in New York City, Pensacola, Florida, Washington, D.C., Windsor, Ontario, and in Gdynia, Katowice, and Warsaw, Poland. Visit www.millercanfield.com.
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