Monopoly in Motion Picture Production and Distribution: 1908-1915
Ralph Cassady, Jr.
By the end of 1907 motion pictures were being presented in thousands of storefront shows (nickelodeons) throughout the country and it appears that the industry was extremely profitable. In view of the high commercial value of motion pictures, it is not surprising that many patent battles were fought in the courts during the next few years to establish prior rights to the various inventions. At first, it was Edison against the field. The Edison Manufacturing Company was involved in numerous suits between 1897 and 1907 in an attempt to protect its position.1 While the decisions were far from clear-cut evaluations of the strength of Edison's patent rights, the early decisions were favorable enough to attract most of the manufacturers, distributors, and exhibitors into the Edison camp.
But by 1908 the industry was divided mainly into two hostile camps. On the one side were Edison and its licensees, Essanay, Kalem, Lubin, Méliès, Pathé Frères, Selig, and Vitagraph; on the other were Biograph and its licensees, Williams, Brown and Earle, Kleine Optical Company, Charles E. Dressler, and through a contractual licensing arrangement, Armat Moving Picture Company. The Biograph licensees, unlike the Edison licensees, were importers, rather than domestic producers. It appears from the Record2 that the Biograph Company was offered a license by Edison in early 1908 at the same time the other principal manufacturers were licensed, but refused to accept. It is clear from the evidence that the deterrent to an agreement between Edison and Biograph was that Biograph