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UTA becomes second agency to sue Writers Guild of America

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 28, 2019 Building at 7000 West 3rd Street in the Fairfax area of Los Angel
The Writers Guild of America is embroiled in a messy dispute with Hollywood talent agencies over practices that the guild claims puts TV and movie writers at a disadvantage.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

United Talent Agency has become the second major Hollywood talent agency to sue the Writers Guild of America, claiming in a suit filed Thursday that the guild has violated antitrust laws by organizing a group boycott.

The complaint, submitted in federal court in California, is similar to the suit filed earlier this week by William Morris Endeavor against the guild. Both suits allege that the WGA has violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by compelling its members to fire their agents if they don’t acquiesce to the union’s demands.

UTA said in its suit that the WGA’s actions have adversely affected its businesses, including the practice known as packaging — a longstanding and highly lucrative practice in which an agency receives fees on a TV show for putting together the talent.

The lawsuit is the latest development in the ongoing dispute between the WGA and Hollywood talent agencies. In April, the guild told its members to fire their agents after the two sides failed to reach a negotiated agreement on a range of issues including packaging.

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WGA has objected to packaging fees, arguing that agencies have prioritized the fees it receives over traditional client representation. The guild has also demanded agencies cease so-called affiliate production — a newer trend in which agencies have become their own studios by engaging in TV and movie production.

UTA’s lawsuit comes after a second round of negotiations collapsed last week when the guild rejected agencies’ latest offer to increase profit sharing with junior TV writers.

“[The] WGA’s ban has harmed competition in the packaging market and other markets that WGA has no authority to regulate,” the complaint said.

The WGA fired back in a statement Thursday, taking aim at the Association of Talent Agents, the trade organization that has been negotiating on behalf of agencies.

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“WME and UTA are correct; there are serious anti-trust violations taking place in Hollywood. But they are all being committed by the ATA and the eight members of its ‘bargaining’ committee, and we will make their violations public in the next day or so.”

The guild has separately sued Hollywood’s four biggest talent agencies in April over the legality of packaging fees.

UTA is seeking unspecified damages and an injunction against the WGA.

david.ng@latimes.com

@DavidNgLAT


UPDATES:

11:03 a.m.: This article was updated with a statement from the Writers Guild of America.


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