Writers Guild Seeks Dismissal of Agencies’ Antitrust Lawsuit

Dave McNary

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The Writers Guild of America has filed for a dismissal of the antitrust suit filed by CAA, UTA and WME, which accuses the union of engaging in an illegal group boycott.

The WGA filed the motion Friday in federal court in Los Angeles and sought a Dec. 6 hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Andre Birotte. The agencies had consolidated their complaint on Sept. 27 and repeated allegations that were filed in individual agency suits in June and July, accusing the WGA of abusing its collective bargaining authority and engaging in an unlawful “power grab.”

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The WGA said in its filing that the agencies’ federal antitrust claim fails because the guilds’ conduct is “fully protected” by the labor exemption in federal antitrust law.

“Separately and independently, the Agencies fail to plead that the Guilds agreed to unreasonably restrain trade, that the Guilds possess a dominant market position, and that the Agencies have suffered an antitrust injury,” the filing said.

The filing also said WGA West and the WGA East are acting within their statutory authority as exclusive representatives under the National Labor Relations Act.

“The Agencies provide no reason to set aside canonical labor law here,” the filing said. “They do not dispute that the Guilds may lawfully condition agents’ representation of Guild members on compliance with the Guilds’ standards; indeed, for decades, they accepted the Guilds’ authority to set such standards.”

Instead, the WGA argues that the agencies have improperly invited the court to second-guess the decision to prohibit two practices — agents’ acceptance of
“packaging fee” payments from production companies that employ the agents’ writer-clients, and the agencies’ acting as actual or prospective employers of their
writer-clients by owning or affiliating with production companies.

The WGA contended that those practices give rise to “inherent conflicts of interest that compromise the representation agents provide to Guild members.”

The WGA directed its 15,000 members to fire their agents on April 12, following the major agencies’ refusal to sign onto a new Code of Conduct, which bars the agencies from collecting packaging fees and engaging in affiliate production. The union had argued that the fees create an unlawful conflict of interest. More than 70 agencies — including mid-size agencies Buchwald, Kaplan Stahler and Verve — have signed deals with the WGA with those bans in place.

In results that were announced on Sept. 16, members of the WGA West strongly supported the leadership’s position, with David Goodman and his allies winning a contentious race in which opponents contended that the guild needed to negotiate a deal with the major agencies. More than 58% of eligible members voted.

The consolidated suit by the agencies seeks a jury trial, an injunction against the WGA, triple damages and attorney fees.

“Plaintiffs have and will continue to lose work, lose clients (thousands so far), lose packaging fees, and suffer irreparable harm to its business and property as a result of WGA’s unlawful conspiracy,” the agencies’ complaint said. “In addition, the ultimate consumers of film and television shows will be injured by the reduction in film and television output caused by WGA’s conspiracy. Plaintiffs will prove the amount of damages they have suffered as a result of WGA’s antitrust violation at trial and are entitled to both triple damages and attorney’s fees.”

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