Justice warns academy against suppressing competition in Oscar awards

The Justice Department has warned the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that potential rule changes affecting awards for Netflix and other streaming services could be an antitrust violation, according to Variety.

The academy is reportedly considering restricting the awards eligibility of movies that debut on streaming services at the same time as they open in theaters, with board member Steven Spielberg lobbying heavily for the rules change.

In a letter to the academy, Makan Delrahim, chief of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, said the new rules risk being written in a way that runs afoul of laws against suppressing competition.

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“In the event that the Academy — an association that includes multiple competitors in its membership — establishes certain eligibility requirements for the Oscars that eliminate competition without procompetitive justification, such conduct may raise antitrust concerns,” Delrahim wrote, according to Variety.

The Sherman Antitrust Act bans anticompetitive agreements among competitors, Delrahim reportedly wrote.

“Accordingly, agreements among competitors to exclude new competitors can violate the antitrust laws when their purpose or effect is to impede competition by goods or services that consumers purchase and enjoy but which threaten the profits of incumbent firms,” he wrote.

If the rule is written in such a way that it might hurt the films’ sales, it could be considered a Sherman Act violation, Delrahim reportedly wrote.

The proposed rules changes came after Netflix’s best-ever showing at the Academy Awards earlier this year, with the Netflix production “Roma” taking home the prizes for best foreign language film, best director and best cinematography on top of seven other nominations.

The streaming service responded to the academy proposal on Twitter in March without mentioning the academy or Spielberg by name, by defending the access it provides to both moviegoers and filmmakers.