Talent agency ICM Partners on Friday asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit that alleges that the longstanding agency practice of packaging talent for projects is illegal.
The move was aimed at dismantling the claims of the Writers Guild of America West, which is in the middle of heated negotiations with the Assn. of Talent Agents about a couple of agency practices that writers claim pose conflicts of interest; agents counter that the practices maximize income for all parties. The conflict began in April and has no end in sight.
The guild in its lawsuit claims that packaging — when agencies pull together talent such as writers, directors and actors for projects, taking a fee from studios rather than the usual 10% commission from each client’s fee — violates state and federal laws. The union says the practice presents a conflict of interest for talent agencies because it may incentivize them to increase their own profits at the expense of their writer clients.
ICM noted that packaging has been a practice widely accepted in an agreement between talent agencies and the Writers Guild of America West for more than 43 years and that during that time, the guild never claimed it was illegal or unethical.
“I think it’s a waste of time and money,” ICM attorney Marvin Putnam said of the WGA lawsuit. “They are running around trying to say that something that was consented to for decades and was a party to for decades is now suddenly unconscionable, unethical, illegal, criminal, and that’s categorically not true.”
ICM also argues in legal documents that the WGA does not have standing to bring the lawsuit. The WGA’s suit claims that agencies are violating their fiduciary duty to their clients; ICM’s filing argues that the WGA is not an individual client and thus can’t bring a claim.
“There is simply no way for the court to determine the veracity of the WGA’s claims without the participation of individual members,” ICM said in legal documents filed in L.A. County Superior Court on Friday. “The WGA thus lacks standing to sue.”
The WGA did not immediately return a request for comment on ICM’s legal response to the lawsuit.
The case is part of what could be a long, drawn-out battle between the WGA and the talent agencies. Three large talent agencies have also sued the WGA.
In an interview this week, WGA West President David Goodman said the union’s operations will not be affected by the money it pays for legal fees. He declined to say how much the union will pay for legal fees this year or next.
“We are on firm legal grounds with the lawsuits,” Goodman said. “We can afford to prosecute them.”
“The lawsuits were an attempt to get the agencies to get serious about these conflicts that we raised. They were never our only strategy,” Goodman said.
Legal observers said that the union’s position could be hurt if a judge were to throw out its case. The guild is in the midst of negotiating with individual agencies with ending packaging as one of its key issues.
“If the court were to throw the case out in its entirety, that would be very detrimental to their bargaining position,” said Dan Stone, a partner in the litigation and entertainment and media groups of law firm Greenberg Glusker. If the case continues, resolving the litigation could take years, he said.