Mutual Film Corp. v. Industrial Commission of Ohio

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Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued January 6–7, 1915
Decided February 23, 1915
Full case nameMutual Film Corporation, Appellant v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, et al.
Citations236 U.S. 230 (more)
35 S. Ct. 387; 59 L. Ed. 552; 1915 U.S. LEXIS 1755
The free speech protection of the Ohio Constitution did not extend to motion pictures.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Edward D. White
Associate Justices
Joseph McKenna · Oliver W. Holmes Jr.
William R. Day · Charles E. Hughes
Willis Van Devanter · Joseph R. Lamar
Mahlon Pitney · James C. McReynolds
Case opinion
MajorityMcKenna, joined by unanimous
Overruled by
Joseph Burstyn, Inc v. Wilson (1952)

Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, 236 U.S. 230 (1915), was a United States Supreme Court case in 1915, in which the Court ruled by a 9-0 vote that the free speech protection of the Ohio Constitution, which was substantially similar to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, did not extend to motion pictures.

The state government of Ohio had passed a statute in 1913 forming a board of censors which had the duty of reviewing and approving all films intended to be exhibited in the state. The board charged a fee for the approval service. The board could order the arrest of anyone showing an unapproved film in the state.

The Court stated:

... the exhibition of moving pictures is a business, pure and simple, originated and conducted for profit ... not to be regarded, nor intended to be regarded by the Ohio Constitution, we think, as part of the press of the country, or as organs of public opinion.

The Court described movies in some technical detail and noted their popularity but wrote that as "they may be used for evil, ... We cannot regard [the censorship of movies] as beyond the power of government." The Court added that it would be equally unreasonable to grant free speech protection to the theater or the circus and noted that in many prior cases regarding government licensure of theatrical performances, the issue of freedom of opinion had not been raised.

The plaintiff was Mutual Film Corporation, a movie distributor. Mutual had also argued that in addition to the violation of its freedom of speech, the censorship board was interfering with interstate commerce in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause and that the government had illegally delegated legislative authority to a censor board. Those arguments were dismissed by the Court more perfunctorily.


The decision that motion pictures did not merit First Amendment protection drove an increase in regulation of movie content, which culminated in the enforcement in July 1934 of the Production Code over all Hollywood films. The Production Code, also known as the Hays Code was not law, but an agreement between studios and theaters to self-censor, partly to avoid the patchwork of local censorship laws that existed around the country. In May 1952, the Supreme Court overturned its Mutual decision in Joseph Burstyn, Inc v. Wilson, popularly known as the "Miracle Decision" since it referred to the short film The Miracle, part of the anthology film L'Amore (1948), directed by Roberto Rossellini.

The Production Code was loosened in the 1950s and 1960s and was eventually abandoned, in favor of the MPAA film rating system in 1968.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Jowett, Garth S. (1989). "'A capacity for evil': The 1915 supreme court Mutual Decision". Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. 9 (1): 59–78. doi:10.1080/01439688900260041.
  • Wertheimer, John (1993). "Mutual Film Reviewed: The Movies, Censorship, and Free Speech in Progressive America". American Journal of Legal History. Temple University. 37 (2): 158–189. doi:10.2307/845372. JSTOR 845372.

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