Escalating a war between Hollywood writers and talent agents, the Writers Guild of America Wednesday announced a lawsuit against major talent agencies seeking to invalidate agencies’ “packaging fees,” which the union claims violate state law.
The Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit is being filed on behalf of the Writers Guild of America West and East, along with eight individually named guild members. The suit names as defendants major Hollywood talent agencies William Morris Endeavor, Creative Artists Agency, United Talent Agency and ICM Partners.
“All of the writer plaintiffs have been hurt financially by packaging deals,” WGA West attorney Tony Segall said. “They are creators and writers of television shows that have shaped a generation, yet their own agents have profited at the expense of their own clients.”
In a statement, Segall said the union and writers “will seek a judicial declaration that packaging fees are unlawful and an injunction prohibiting talent agencies from entering into future packaging deals.”
On Friday, the WGA announced it had failed to reach a settlement with the Association of Talent Agents, meaning no agents can represent writers until their agencies sign the WGA’s member-approved code of conduct. The guild sent an email to its members reminding them as of midnight Friday, every agency will be required to become a signatory to the code, WGA rules bar members from being represented by agencies that have not signed the code and to notify their agency in a written form letter that they cannot represent them until they sign the code.
There was no immediate response to a request for comment from ATA in response to the guild’s newly announced lawsuit. Karen Stuart, executive director of the ATA, released a statement following Friday’s WGA action, saying the guild’s leadership “declared a pathway for compromise doesn’t exist,” and insisting the agencies “have been committed to reaching an agreement with the WGA.”
She accused the guild of proceeding on a “predetermined course for chaos.”
“The WGA is mandating a `Code of Conduct’ that will hurt all artists, delivering an especially painful blow to mid-level and emerging writers, while dictating how agencies of all sizes should function. We came to the negotiating table in good faith and put forth comprehensive proposals providing choice, disclosure, transparency, shared revenue and a significant investment in inclusion programs.
“Unfortunately, not to our surprise, the WGA did not accept our offer, did not provide counterproposals and refused to negotiate further. We’re prepared to continue to fight for the best interests of writers and all artists.”
The WGA’s lawsuit specifically contends that packaging fees violate the state’s fiduciary duty law and Unfair Competition Law, claiming that the fees violate the federal Labor-Management Relations Act and other statutes.
Packaging fees are up-front funds paid by a studio to an agency representing multiple people — such as writers, actors or directors — on a particular show or production. The guild contends such fees hurt writers, often leading to agents earning more money on package deals than the writers themselves.
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