Abstract: Monopoly on Stage: Show Business, Mass Media Industries, and the Redefinition of Commerce, 1907-1955

Michael Winslow


This paper examines the application of antitrust law to the sphere of entertainment and culture, considering the theater business in the first half of the twentieth century in the context of emerging film and mass media industries. I consider the history of the regulation of theater enterprises under antitrust law to argue that these legal sources ultimately trace the growth and importance of an economy based in information. Theater enterprises—as both "art" and "commerce"—offered a legal conundrum in the first half of the twentieth century: when theater businesses behaved monopolistically, could they be subjected to the same antitrust proceedings as other industries? Could theater, as an art form based on performance, ultimately be considered an "industry" at all? While in early cases theater was deemed outside the scope of antitrust law because it could not be classified as interstate commerce, by the end of World War II, the increased number of media industries based on intangible flows of information led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that classified the theater as commerce.