LOS ANGELES (CN) – A Hollywood talent agency that has lost 1,300 clients accuses the Writers Guild of America of organizing an unlawful boycott that stifles competition for new talent in TV and film, while also threatening its own members if they do not fire their talent agents.
The latest volley came in the form of a federal antitrust lawsuit filed by Beverly Hills-based talent agency William Morris Endeavor, which says the Writers Guild of America has organized an unlawful boycott over industry standards that have been part of Hollywood deals for the last 40 years.
In April, the Writers Guild of America sued four big talent agencies over a fee dispute revolving around packaging deals.
As long as there have been writers in Hollywood there have been talent agents who secure deals for their clients, whether a TV show going to pilot or a movie getting the greenlight from a studio.
An agent’s cut is capped by law at 10%, but their agencies also bring in money through package deals where they provide a roster of talent, like writers, directors and other creatives to a studio for a TV show or film that is ready to go. Those packaging fees fall outside the client-agent relationship and have been an industry standard for the last 40 years – a standard the guild wants to see go the way of the silent film.
Amid stalled negotiations between writers and the Association of Talent Agents, the guild asked its members to fire agents who do not abide by a “Code of Conduct”, which the guild sees as the foundation for upending the 40-year-old deal it had with the agencies.
Now in a 44-page antitrust complaint filed Monday against the east and west factions of the Writers Guild of America, William Morris Endeavor says some 1,300 TV and film writers and showrunners have fired them over the boycott.
The agency accuses the guild’s leadership of pushing a series of anticompetitive agreements targeting talent agencies over what it says is a long-accepted, industry-standard practice of packaging talent to studios. It claims the “Code of Conduct” sets illegal conditions proposed by the guild and that it has been targeted for refusing to abide by them.
“When a union crosses the limits of activity protected by the labor exemptions, its conduct becomes fully subject to antitrust scrutiny just like any other organization,” the agency says in its complaint. “WGA has crossed those limits here by coercing members and non-members alike into a network of anticompetitive agreements that restrain competition in commercial markets over which WGA lacks any legitimate labor law authority or interest.”
The talent agency says packaging is an important way for shows and movies to get made, and claims the guild’s boycott stifles competition for new writers looking to break into the industry. Other members of the guild have been threatened if they deal with William Morris Endeavor or other talent agencies who do not adhere to the “Code of Conduct” and the guild has also tried to coerce Hollywood studios to refuse to work with agents who are not willing to sign the agreement, according to the complaint.
What’s more, the agency says, the guild is trying to get unlicensed managers and lawyers to perform the work of boycotted talent agents, which is illegal under California and New York law.
“WGA’s absolute bans on agency packaging and content affiliates are thus grossly over-restrictive, unnecessary to redress any legitimate union concern, and intrude upon commercial activities in markets that WGA has no authority to regulate,” the agency says in its complaint.
In a statement, the guild said there is no merit to the lawsuit and it will not be bullied into a bad deal.
“History repeats itself. In 1975, the William Morris Agency sued the guild for antitrust violations in response to the WGA’s campaign to prohibit packaging fees,” the union said by email.
William Morris Endeavor wants a judge to declare the guild’s boycott as illegal under Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act and also seeks damages. The agency is represented by LA-based Winston & Strawn.
In a statement, the agency defended its lawsuit and accused the guild of refusing to negotiate.
“We took today’s step with careful consideration. The WGA negotiating committee has made it clear both through its legal action and unwillingness to negotiate that it was never interested in making a reasonable deal. We are now left to seek a legal remedy for this dispute,” the agency said in a statement. “While we wish we were not in this position, we will not capitulate to a leadership group that limits the choices and opportunities available to our clients, and has made repeated attempts to undermine our business.”