Writers Guild Loses Bid to Toss Agencies’ Antitrust Suit

A federal judge on Tuesday allowed the three major agencies to pursue a lawsuit against the Writers Guild of America, finding that the guild’s agency boycott is not immune from antitrust scrutiny.

U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte denied the guild’s motion to dismiss the suit, brought by WME, CAA and UTA, holding that the agencies have made a plausible claim that the guild’s boycott was a “predatory device” intended to harm the agencies.

The ruling means there is no end in sight to the nine-month standoff between the guild and the major talent agencies over the issue of packaging fees. The Writers Guild has sought to prevent agents from collecting fees from producers for packaging talent on projects, arguing it is a conflict of interest that suppresses writers’ wages. The guild is also opposed to agencies owning production companies, called affiliated production.

In April, the guild directed its members to fire their agents after the agencies refused to sign the guild’s new code of conduct. The agencies filed suit in federal court, alleging that the guild was engaged in an illegal group boycott in violation of the antitrust laws.

The antitrust laws contain explicit exemptions for legitimate union activity. But the agencies’ lawyers have argued that the guild has gone well beyond that protection with its boycott, threatening to harm directors, actors and ultimately consumers. The Department of Justice has sided with the agencies, and urged Birotte to deny the guild’s motion to dismiss.

The guild has filed its own countersuit, accusing the agencies of violating antitrust laws by negotiating only through their trade organization, the Association of Talent Agents. A hearing on the agencies’ motion to dismiss that claim is set for Jan. 17.

Both sides anticipate that a trial could be held in March 2021.

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