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.svg
Argued January 6–7, 1915
Decided February 23, 1915
Full case name Mutual Film Corporation, Appellant v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, et al.
Citations 236 U.S. 230 (more)
The free speech protection of the Ohio Constitution did not extend to motion pictures.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority McKenna, 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 court case decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1915, in which, by a 9-0 vote, the Court ruled 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 Court described movies in some technical detail and noted their popularity, but wrote "they may be used for evil," and for this reason, "We cannot regard [the censorship of movies] as beyond the power of government." The Court added 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. These arguments were dismissed by the Court more perfunctorily.


The decision that motion pictures did not merit First Amendment protection drove increased regulation of movie content, culminating in the enforcement in July 1934 of the Production Code over all Hollywood films. The Production Code was not law, but an agreement between studios and theaters to self-censor, in part to preempt 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 eventually abandoned in favor of the movie 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. 

External links[edit]

  • Text of Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, 236 U.S. 230 (1915) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia