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Tribune Co. v. Oak Leaves Broadcasting Station, Inc.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff was the owner of a radio station and newspaper. Plaintiff purchased a wavelength to run its radio station. At that time, there were not any other radio stations in Chicago or Illinois that used that wavelength or a wavelength sufficiently close to Plaintiff’s. About a year later, Defendant began to operate a station that was either exactly the same as Plaintiff’s wavelength or about 50 kilocycles removed from Plaintiff’s. Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant requesting the court to issue an injunction against Defendant. The court issued a temporary restraining order against Defendant. Defendant motioned to dissolve the order.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    When a broadcaster previously uses and invests in a broadcasting wavelength, the broadcaster has the right to exclude competitors from the wavelength.

    Facts.

    The Chicago Daily Tribune (“Plaintiff”) owned both, a newspaper and a radio station. Plaintiff’s radio station issuedprogram on a daily basisto over 500,000 individuals primarily in the City of Chicago. In December 1925, Plaintiff started broadcasting the radio stationon a wavelength of 302.8 meters. At that time, there were not any other radio stations using a wavelength that was sufficiently close to the Plaintiff’s wavelength to interfere with the Tribune’s programs in Chicago or Illinois. Later, in September 1926, a competing station changed its wavelength to a frequency that was exactly the same as Plaintiff’s wavelength or was less than 50 kilocycles removed from the Plaintiff’s wavelength. Oak Leaves Broadcasting Station, Inc., the Coyne Electrical School, Inc., and a Chicago resident named Guyon (collectively known as “Defendants”) managed the competing station. Thereafter, Plaintiff brought suit requesting the court to issue an injunction against Defendants to prevent Defendants from operating their station on the Plaintiff’s wavelength. The lower court held for Plaintiff by issuing a temporary restraining order, which forbid Defendants from broadcasting on either the Tribune’s wavelength or a wavelength so close that it interfered with the Tribune’s radio programs. Defendants motioned to dissolve the order, and Plaintiff contended that Plaintiff had a right to the wavelength for the following reasons: Plaintiff was using the wavelength for a considerable amount of time, Plaintiff had spent a considerable amount of money to developing the station, the public associated the wavelength with Plaintiff, and the station had a large following. Furthermore, Plaintiff also alleged that Defendants would damage Plaintiff’s newspaper. Defendants asserted that the court cannot deem a wavelength cannot to be privately controlled, thus Defendant did not interfere with Plaintiff’s program, as Defendants’ station was removed from Plaintiff’s wavelength by 40 kilocycles.

    Issue.

    Whether a broadcaster has the right to exclude competitors from the wavelength when a broadcaster previously uses and invests in a broadcasting wavelength.

    Held.

    Yes, a broadcaster has the right to exclude competitors from the wavelength when a broadcaster previously uses and invests in a broadcasting wavelength.

    Discussion.

    When a broadcaster previously uses and invests in a broadcasting wavelength, the broadcaster has the right to exclude competitors from the wavelength. Further, broadcasters have created a custom in which each broadcaster would recognize another broadcaster’s rights by staying silent when actions to the contrarywould result in an interferencewith a competing broadcast. Because Congress did not intend to regulate broadcasting under the commerce clause, the court may determine whether Plaintiffis entitled an equitable remedy. Moreover, since Plaintiff has been using the wavelength for a substantial amount of time, Plaintiff has a large audience, and Defendants are not new to the field and Defendants suffer less from the injunction compared to Plaintiff, Plaintiff is entitled to an equitable remedy. Priority of time establishes superiority in right. Here, Plaintiff’s priority in time is not in dispute, and based on an analysis from the record. Defendant’s 40 kilocycles is not sufficient to prevent interference with Plaintiff’s programs. Without the final hearing is at completion, the court should not enter an order to prevent Defendants’ from using any specific wavelength. Nonetheless, the lower court’s order must be amended by enjoining Defendants from broadcasting over any wavelength that is sufficiently close to Plaintiff’s wavelength to prevent a material interference with Plaintiff’s programs, about a 100-mile radius. Furthermore, 50 kilocycles is a safe distance, but if Defendants’ begin to operate at a wavelength less than 50 kilocycle in distance, Defendants’ do so at their own risk.


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