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History of Edison Motion Pictures
Litigation and Licensees

Advertisement for Edison Films and Projecting Kinetoscopes. The Moving Picture World, June 15, 1907, p. 242.

Commercial success brought complications, however; throughout the history of his motion picture company, Thomas Edison was frequently involved in litigation over patent claims. Suing the competition for patent infringement was a way of protecting his inventions and profits and a way to eliminate competition. Companies such as Lubin, Selig, Vitagraph, and Essanay all found themselves in court over Edison's claims. One of Edison's biggest wins came in July 1901 when a U.S. Circuit Court in New York ruled that Biograph, one of Edison's biggest competitors, had infringed on Edison patent claims. The decision was reversed in March 1902 by an appeals court.

As a result of this continuing litigation, the Edison Company formed the Association of Edison Licensees on March 1, 1908. The association was an attempt to bring order to the unruly competition among film companies and to marginalize nonmember companies. It also sought to resolve the costly legal squabbles related to the many Edison Company lawsuits by granting licenses to producers, exchanges, and exhibitors for the member companies. A formal release system for films was set down, along with rules of operation for the member companies. Biograph, however, refused to join and in retaliation formed an opposition group of licensees. When these arrangements did not eliminate competition, an agreement was made between Biograph and Edison to join their licensee organizations into the Motion Picture Patents Company on December 18, 1908. This organization, which became known as "the Trust," established interlocking agreements between the film exchanges, theaters, and the Eastman Kodak Company, which amounted to a monopoly on the American film market.

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