Fashion Originators Guild of America v. Federal Trade Commission

Decision Date03 March 1941
Docket NumberNo. 537,537
Citation61 S.Ct. 703,312 U.S. 457,85 L.Ed. 949,312 U.S. 668
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Charles B. Rugg, of Boston, Mass., and Milton C. Weisman, of New York City, for petitioners.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 458-459 intentionally omitted] Mr. Francis Biddle, Sol. Gen., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Circuit Court of Appeals, with modifications not here challenged, affirmed a Federal Trade Commission decree ordering petitioners to cease and desist from certain practices found to have been done in combination and to constitute 'unfair methods of competition' tending to monopoly.1 Determination of the correctness of the decision below requires consideration of the Sherman, Clayton, and Federal Trade Commission Acts.2

Some of the members of the combination design, manufacture, sell and distribute women's garments—chiefly dresses. Others are manufacturers, converters or dyers of textiles from which these garments are made. Fashion Originators' Guild of America (FOGA), an organization controlled by these groups, is the instrument through which petitioners work to accomplish the purposes condemned by the Commission. The garment manufacturers claim to be creators of original and distinctive designs of fashionable clothes for women, and the textile manufacturers claim to be creators of similar original fabric designs. After these designs enter the channels of trade, other manufacturers systematically make and sell copies of them, the copies usually selling at prices lower than the garments copied. Petitioners call this practice of copying unethical and immoral, and give it the name of 'style piracy.' And although they admit that their 'original creations' are neither copyrighted nor patented, and indeed assert that existing legislation affords them no protection against copyists, they nevertheless urge that sale of copied designs constitutes an unfair trade practice and a tortious invasion of their rights. Because of these alleged wrongs, petitioners, while continuing to compete with one another in many respects, combined among themselves to combat and, if possible, destroy all competition from the sale of garments which are copies of their 'original creations.' They admit that to destroy such competition they have in combination purposely boycotted and declined to sell their products to retailers who follow a policy of selling garments copied by other manufacturers from designs put out by Guild members. As a result of their efforts, approximately 12,000 retailers throughout the country have signed agreements to 'cooperate' with the Guild's boycott program, but more than half of these signed the agreements only because constrained by threats that Guild members would not sell to retailers who failed to yield to their demands threats that have been carried out by the Guild practice of placing on red cards the names of noncooperators (to whom no sales are to be made), placing on white cards the names of cooperators (to whom sales are to be made), and then distributing both sets of cards to the manufacturers.

The one hundred and seventy-six manufacturers of women's garments who are members of the Guild occupy a commanding position in their line of business. In 1936, they sold in the United States more than 38% of all women's garments wholesaling at $6.75 and up, and more than 60% of those at $10.75 and above. The power of the combination is great; competition and the demand of the consuming public make it necessary for most retail dealers to stock some of the products of these manufacturers. And the power of the combination is made even greater by reason of the affiliation of some members of the National Federation of Textiles, Inc.—that being an organization composed of about one hundred textile manufacturers, converters, dyers, and printers of silk and rayon used in making women's garments. Those members of the Federation who are affiliated with the Guild have agreed to sell their products only to those garment manufacturers who have in turn agreed to sell only to cooperating retailers.

The Guild maintains a Design Registration Bureau for garments, and the Textile Federation maintains a similar Bureau for textiles. The Guild employs 'shoppers' to visit the stores of both cooperating and non-cooperating retailers, 'for the purpose of examining their stocks, to determine and report as to whether they contain * * * copies of registered designs * * *.' An elaborate system of trial and appellate tribunals exists, for the determination of whether a given garment is in fact a copy of a Guild member's design. In order to assure the success of its plan of registration and restraint, and to ascertain whether Guild regulations are being violated, the Guild audits its members books. And if violations of Guild requirements are discovered, as, for example, sales to red-carded retailers, the violators are subject to heavy fines.3

In addition to the elements of the agreement set out above, all of which relate more or less closely to competition by so-called style copyists, the Guild has undertaken to do many things apparently independent of and distinct from the fight against copying. Among them are the following: the combination prohibits its members from participating in retail advertising; regulates the discount they may allow; prohibits their selling at retail; cooperates with local guilds in regulating days upon which special sales shall be held; prohibits its members from selling women's garments to persons who conduct businesses in residences, residential quarters, hotels or apartment houses; and denies the benefits of membership to retailers who participate with dress manufacturers in promoting fashion shows unless the merchandise used is actually purchased and delivered.

If the purpose and practice of the combination of garment manufacturers and their affiliates runs counter to the public policy declared in the Sherman and Clayton Acts, the Federal Trade Commission has the power to suppress it as an unfair method of competition.4 From its findings the Commission concluded that the petitioners, 'pursuant to understandings, arrangements, agreements, combinations and conspiracies entered into jointly and severally', had prevented sales in interstate commerce, had 'substantially lessened, hindered and suppressed' competition, and had tended 'to create in themselves a monopoly.' And paragraph 3 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 14, 15 U.S.C.A. § 14, declares 'It shall be unlawful for any person engaged in commerce * * * to * * * make a sale or contract for sale of goods * * * on the condition, agreement or understanding that the * * * purchaser thereof shall not use or deal in the goods * * * of a competitor or competitors of the * * * seller, where the effect of such * * * sale, or contract for sale * * * may be to substantially lessen competition or tend to create a monopoly in any line of commerce.' The relevance of this section of the Clayton Act to petitioners' scheme is shown by the fact that the scheme is bottomed upon a system of sale under which (1) textiles shall be sold to garment manufacturers only upon the condition and understanding that the buyers will not use or deal in textiles which are copied from the designs of textile manufacturing Guild members; (2) garment manufacturers shall sell to retailers only upon the condition and understanding that the retailers shall not use or deal in such copied designs. And the Federal Trade Commission concluded in the language of the Clayton Act that these understandings substantially lessened competition and tended to create a monopoly. We hold that the Commission, upon adequate and unchallenged findings, correctly concluded that this practice constituted an unfair method of competition.5

Not only does the plan in the respects above discussed thus conflict with the principles of the Clayton Act; the findings of the Commission bring petitioners' combination in its entirety well within the inhibition of the policies declared by the Sherman Act itself. Section 1 of that Act makes illegal every contract, combination or conspiracy in restraint of trade or commerce among the several states; Section 2 makes illegal every combination or conspiracy which monopolizes or attempts to monopolize any part of that trade or commerce. Under the Sherman Act 'competition, not combination, should be the law of trade.' National Cotton Oil Co. v. Texas, 197 U.S. 115, 129, 25 S.Ct. 379, 381, 382, 49 L.Ed. 689. And among the many respects in which the Guild's plan runs contrary to the policy of the Sherman Act are these: it narrows the outlets to which garment and textile manufacturers can sell and the sources from which retailers can buy (Montague & Co. v. Lowry, 193 U.S. 38, 45, 24 S.Ct. 307, 309, 48 L.Ed. 608; Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Co. v. United States, 226 U.S. 20, 48, 49, 33 S.Ct. 9, 14, 15, 57 L.Ed. 107); subjects all retailers and manufacturers who decline to comply with the Guild's program to an organized boycott (Eastern States Retail Lumber Dealers'...

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