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WGA bid to dismiss agencies’ antitrust suit appears in trouble after judge’s ruling

WGA
Headquarters of the Writers Guild of America West in the Fairfax area of Los Angeles.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Three Hollywood talent agencies will proceed with their antitrust lawsuit against the Writers Guild of America after a federal judge in Los Angeles issued a tentative ruling on Friday that appeared to reject the union’s request to dismiss the case.

Creative Artists Agency, United Talent Agency and William Morris Endeavor Entertainment sued the WGA this summer, accusing the union of violating antitrust laws by organizing a group boycott when thousands of writers fired their agents after the union and the agencies could not come to an agreement on a new code of conduct.

The WGA argued that the court should dismiss the case because it had not violated the National Labor Relations Act and was acting as the exclusive collective bargaining representative for its members.

At a hearing Friday, U.S. District Court Judge André Birotte Jr. showed his tentative ruling to the attorneys for the agencies and the union, but the document was not publicly available, said people who attended the hearing. A final ruling is expected later this month.

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The WGA said in a statement that it looks forward to seeing the court’s ruling.

“We appreciated the thoughtfulness and time the court gave to this issue,” the WGA said in a statement. “Our lawyers clearly articulated why the agencies’ complaint should be dismissed.”

Attorneys with the U.S. Justice Department filed court documents last week urging the judge to reject the WGA’s argument.

The department’s attorneys said in a filing that if the court did not resolve the factual disputes before deciding on whether the labor exemption applies to this case, “the court may disrupt the proper balance between federal labor law and federal antitrust law and undermine the fundamental protections for competition and consumers embodied in the federal antitrust laws.”

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WGA West President David Goodman said last week that it was “not surprising that Trump’s Justice Department has filed a brief designed to weaken a labor union’s effort to protect its members and eliminate conflicts of interest by talent agencies. The agencies’ antitrust claims are contrary to Supreme Court precedent, and we remain confident that the court will dismiss them.”

The WGA and Assn. of Talent Agents have been in a months-long dispute over a new code of conduct. The WGA West has negotiated with more than 80 talent agencies that have agreed to the union’s terms, including ending industry practices like packaging, when agencies pull together talent for projects and the collect a fee from studios. So far, five talent agencies that are members of the ATA have broken ranks and agreed to the WGA’s terms.

The agencies say that writers benefit from packaging because they don’t have to pay the typical 10% commission fee. Some large agencies are continuing to package shows without writers and centering the projects on popular books, podcasts and foreign-language shows.

The WGA has also countersued the CAA, WME and UTA, alleging the agencies have violated antitrust laws through packaging fees.


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