The case has touched a chord among small independent theater operators across the country, who've complained for years about big theater chains putting the squeeze on them by abusing an industry tradition known as clearance, a legal and less expansive practice than circuit dealing, in which chains ask studios for exclusive rights to show a movie within a certain radius, usually about two or three miles around their theaters.
"It's a common problem," said Russ Collins, director of the Art House Convergence, a conference catering to art house theaters held with the Sundance Film Festival.
"Just about any independent operator has run up against this because clearances are ill defined," added Greg Laemmle, president of the Laemmle Theatres, the Los Angeles-based art house cinema chain. He cited his own experience closing the Laemmle Grande 4-Plex theater downtown after Regal opened its L.A. Live multiplex at the Staples Center. "When Regal opened we were told that we would be cleared, that we would not have access to the films that we previously played."