I wanted to highlight this story from Variety (I know… I know…)
just because it’s one of the strangest tales from the intersection of big government and the private sector to come our way in quite some time. There’s some sort of dispute going on between the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the people who bring you the Oscars) and Netflix. Steven Spielberg has apparently been pushing for a rules change that would limit award eligibility of movies that debut on streaming services like Netflix around the same time that they appear in theaters.

Why is this of interest to an audience that primarily focuses on politics and government affairs? Because, if this report is accurate, the United States Department of Justice has issued a warning to the Academy, saying that such a move could put them in legal jeopardy involving anti-trust laws. What the heck is going on here?

According to a letter obtained by Variety, the chief of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, Makan Delrahim, wrote to AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson on March 21 to express concerns that the new rules would be written “in a way that tends to suppress competition.”

“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…

An Academy spokesperson said, “We’ve received a letter from the Dept. of Justice and have responded accordingly. The Academy’s Board of Governors will meet on April 23 for its annual awards rules meeting, where all branches submit possible updates for consideration.”

Say what now? I tend to side with Mark Hemingway’s response to this news on Twitter.

What in the world is the Justice Departement doing getting involved with the nominating rules for an awards show? I’ve been a subscriber of Netflix for many years and believe that some of their work definitely merits recognition, but the federal government can’t be the arbiter of such things. Even if some lobbyist for Netflix managed to get the ear of some members of Congress on this subject, it would be astonishing if any of the members would take such a request seriously. (Unless it was one of the freshman members who hasn’t quite figured out how things work yet.)

The AMPAS is a completely private organization that doesn’t receive any taxpayer money, at least that I’m aware of. And while films that win any of the major awards probably get a boost in sales, the group is not able to stop people from choosing to watch the films in whatever available format they choose. Some of the biggest box office smashes in memory didn’t win Oscars or, in some cases, even get nominated.

The DOJ is suggesting there might be a violation of the Sherman Act if the new rule constitutes an “anticompetitive agreements among competitors.” Again, that might be the case if the Academy was capable of preventing films from being made or shown, but all they do his hand out trophies while celebrating their own awesomeness and bashing conservatives.

How is this any business of the federal government? Will they next be threatening legal action against Time Magazine if they fail to name Donald Trump as their Person of the Year again? Maybe they can arrest Julie Chen over inequities in the selection process for contestants on Big Brother. This entire story is just bizarre. If the DOJ actually tries to bring charges against the Academy it would be the trial of the century in terms of establishing limits on governmental power.