Reference > Media law & regulation > American film boycotts
This section is still under construction.
Numbers in square brackets after entries link to the list of references.
The US film industry, represented by the Motion Picture Export Association (MPEA) has used the threat and actual imposition of boycotts in an attempt to force other countries to accept trading conditions for its films that are favourable (or at least not unfavourable) to Hollywood interests.
Time: May 1955-May 1958
Reason: The MPEA decided that rental payments for US films were too low.
Response: Danish distributors refused to pay more. The number of American films released dropped dramatically (236 submitted for censorship in 1954, 189 in 1955, 116 in 1956, 55 in 1957) and films from leading European film-making nationsespecially British, French and Italiangained.
Outcome: Some Danish exhibitors agreed to increased fees, and shipments resumed. But the three-year hiatus had the apparently lasting effect of helping Danish films, which increased in number and maintained market share for years to come. Although admissions to Danish cinemas fell slowly during the period of the boycott, the rate of decline accelerated significantly after the flow of American films resumed and ownership of television sets spread.
Reason: The French government proposed a reduced quota permitting three foreign films instead of seven to be imported for every French film handled.
Response: American distributors, members of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA), closed their Paris offices from 1 April to 24 September, continuing their boycott after the government implemented a more generous 4:1 quota of imports to domestic films. Warner Bros decided to lift its ban on 26 April but was brought back into line by the MPPDA.
Outcome: On 19 September the government reverted to the previous 7:1 quota, effective until 30 September 1930, with a further year if no agreement were reached by 1 May 1930. 
Reason: The French government introduced a law requiring all foreign films to be in the original language with subtitles.
Outcome: Agreement was signed in Washington in May 1946 by US Secretary of State James Byrnes and former French prime minister Léon Blum (the Blum-Byrnes pact). The pre-war import quota on American films was removed and a screen quota was introduced for French cinemas.
French screen quotas.
France itself imposed a boycott on export of films to Upper Volta (=Burkino Faso) when that country's cinemas were nationalised in 1969.
Reason: During lawsuits over sound film patents and parallel negotiations to establish an international standard, the General Electric (GE) subsidiary Electrical Research Products Inc (ERPI) asked the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) for a boycott to force down the royalties asked for by the powerful Tobis-Klangfilm as part of the patent-sharing deal.
Response: The German side held firm—up to a point. Meanwhile, Western Electric instituted a ban to prevent German film exports to the USA.
Outcome: A series of separate agreements was made between companies involved. GE bought a stake in Allgemeine Elektrizitäts Gemeinschaft (AEG), which owned 45 per cent of Klangfilm, in July 1929 and thereafter a deal was concluded between GE's subsidiary Radio Corporation of America (RCA)—in turn the parent of RKO—and Tobis-Klangfilm. RKO began distribution in Germany in March 1930. Warner Bros negotiated with another European patent-holding group led by Küchenmeister, which led to a temporary licence for Warner in September, finally resolved when Warner Bros bought a 20 per cent stake in Tobis-Klangfilm for $10m on 8 April 1930. International agreement was reached later in 1930 for sound film standards.
Reason: The Italian government passed a law imposing limits on American film imports.
Response: American major distributors MGM, Paramount, Twentieth Century-Fox and Warner Bros withdraw from the Italian market in protest.
Time: mid 1955-March 1958
Reason: The Spanish government wanted a reduced quota for import of US films (from 100 to 80), with a limit to the number that could be dubbed (64), and a reciprocal distribution arrangement for MPEA members to distribute Spanish films in the USA.
Response: Spanish distributors gained market share and undertook re-organisation of the business. Some US studios licensed product to Spanish distributors and closed their local offices.
Outcome: The Spanish dropped the reciprocity proposal but introduced a more restrictive regime (the baremo) than was originally proposed before the boycott.
Time: August 1947-March 1948
Reason: The British government, seeking to save export of dollar earnings, imposed a 75 per cent ad valorem duty on imported (American) films.
Outcome: After negotiations led on the British side by the recently appointed President of the Board of Trade, Harold Wilson, the studios were allowed to repatriate $17m, plus the value of UK film exports to the US and some other territories. Other earnings were blocked but could be used for such purposes as investment in British production and buying rights to UK films. The agreement was widely regarded by the British as too favourable to the Americans.
The story in detail.
Page updated 6 June 2009
© David Fisher