Early Trade Associations

The MPPDA was not the industry's first trade association. In many respects, the Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC), which came into being in 1908, can be seen as the American film industry's first attempt at business self-regulation, while the National Board of Censorship of Motion Pictures (NBC), created in 1909, represented the industry's first attempt to regulate movie content through mechanisms internal to the industry as an alternative to official censorship by various levels of government. The NBC changed its name to the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures (NBR) in 1915. In 1916, the short-lived Motion Picture Board of Trade was replaced as the industry's trade association by the National Association of the Motion Picture Industry (NAMPI), which included members of all three branches of the industry.

From 1907, state and municipal governments had sought to regulate and tax the industry through a variety of measures, including the establishment of censor boards. Between 1911 and 1916, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Ohio, and Maryland established state censor boards, and in 1915 the US Supreme Court ruled state censorship to be constitutional, denying movies the right to protection under the First Amendment. In the early 1920s almost every state legislature considered a censorship bill. The increased vigor of this pro-censorship campaign had less to do with the more explicit sexuality of movies such as Cecil B. deMille's Why Change Your Wife? than it did with larger social factors: the establishment of prohibition, and the postwar depression, which intensified middle class anxieties about the potentially disruptive condition of the working class. In 1921, as part of its campaign against state censorship, NAMPI published the "Thirteen Points," a series of resolutions designed to operate as a system of content self-regulation. It failed to prevent the passage of censorship legislation in New York, however, and the organisation's subsequent collapse led to discussions about replacing it with a more effective body. The industry's rapid vertical integration had revived the rhetoric of the evils of the "Movie Trust," heightened by an element of anti-Semitism. In August 1921, the Federal Trade Commission charged Famous Players-Lasky with monopolizing first-run exhibition, and there were calls for the Senate Judiciary Committee to conduct an investigation into the political activities of the motion picture industry. It was these events, far more than the hullabaloo in the Hearst press over the Fatty Arbuckle and William Desmond Taylor scandals that led to the creation of the MPPDA.