Objections filed in foreign levy suit against guild

Several objections have been filed to the proposed settlement in the tangled foreign levies suit against the Writers Guild of America, a month before the final hearing on possible payment of tens of millions of dollars to writers.

WGA members Stefan Avalos and Art Eisenson, in a state court filing Monday, said they were seeking to intervene in the case because the settlement agreement doesn’t address the issues that were raised when the suit was filed five years ago. The WGA said it doesn’t respond to questions about pending litigation.

“It is a settlement in name only,” the writers said. “It makes no provision for the actual payment of foreign levies to class members and fails to address the central thrust of the complaint: that WGA converted, misappropriated or otherwise refused to disgorge foreign levy money belonging to writers whose identities and locations are already known.”

The 2005 suit, filed by William Richert (“Winter Kills”), centers on the WGA’s authority to collect foreign funds due to scribes as compensation for reuse, and the guild’s handling of those funds. Unlike in the U.S., a foreign distributor cannot assume total ownership of the copyrights on an artist’s work.

“The settlement agreement does not require WGA to ascertain whether it recovered the right amount of money from the foreign collecting societies; rather it is premised on blind trust that WGA did receive all it was owed,” Avalos and Eisenson said.

The final hearing in the case has been set for March 9 before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carl West. Monday was the deadline for filing objections and opting out of the settlement agreement, which West approved on a preliminary basis in October.

The objection said that the settlement doesn’t differentiate between WGA members and non-members — including animation writers who are covered under an IATSE contract and writers for pornographic films.

The filing also alleged that the settlement is being sold by a materially false representation on the WGA website — that the court has confirmed WGA’s “right” to collect foreign levies.

The settlement calls for payment of all foreign funds within three years along with an independent accounting review of the program, with any unclaimed funds to be paid to the Actors Fund. The WGA West disclosed in its annual report that, as of March 31, it had $30.3 million in “funds held in trust for members,” including foreign levies, client trust accounts, undeliverable funds and a residuals trust fund — although it didn’t break out how much of that money was from foreign funds.

The foreign levies for American creatives began to flow after the U.S. agreement in 1989 to terms of the Berne Convention, which establishes the right of authorship for individuals who create works of art.

The DGA settled a similar suit in 2008; its web site declares the DGA has disbursed over $77 million in foreign levies, including over $8 million to more than 2,400 non members.

SAG’s facing a similar suit from Ken Osmond that’s yet to be resolved.

Eric Hughes, who has been a consultant for the plaintiffs on the suit, also filed an objection on Monday. “The settlement does not deal at all with the fact we as writers are entitled to 100% of our foreign levy earnings and the production companies are not entitled to any part of them despite the fact that our union has entered into agreements with the production companies giving away half of our royalties,” he said in a letter to West.

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