State court judge has told attorneys to stop foot-dragging

A state court judge has told attorneys to stop foot-dragging in carrying out settlement terms of lawsuits over how Hollywood guilds handle foreign levies for creatives.

Superior Court Judge Carl West, in an hour-long hearing Monday, criticized attorneys for failing to agree on such details as hiring the KMPG accounting firm and engaging consultants Donald Jasko and Daniel Gervais to review the foreign levies programs at the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America West. SAG’s class-action settlement was finalized in February and the WGA’s was signed in June, 2010.

“I don’t think that eight months in the SAG case is timely,” West said at the end of the hearing. “Let’s get it done.”

Attorneys for the guilds and for the plaintiffs blamed each other for the delays but West told both sides that he believed that they were capable of finding a middle ground. West ordered the two sides to work out details of agreements on the accounting firm and consultants by Oct. 21 and to appear before him for a hearing on Oct. 26.

“Our goal is to get these funds out to the people who deserve them,” West said at one point. “It has not been the most effective process.”

West also indicated that he won’t revise the terms of the 2008 settlement of a lawsuit filed against the Directors Guild of America by William Webb. Neville Johnson, attorney for the plaintiffs in all three suits, asserted that the DGA’s single-page yearly accounting of the program didn’t provide sufficient transparency but West said that Johnson should have raised the issue earlier.

“We have not heard a single word from Neville Johnson about this since late 2008,” added Daniel Schechter, attorney for the DGA.

The tangled lawsuits stem from “foreign levies” for American actors, writers and directors — which began to flow in 1989 after the U.S. agreed to the terms of the Berne Convention, which established the right of authorship for individuals who create works of art. SAG, the WGA and the DGA began collecting the foreign funds in the early 1990s on behalf of members and nonmembers who had a stake in films and TV programs.

The funds are collected from countries through mechanisms such as taxes on video sales and rentals to compensate copyright holders for reuse. All three guilds have denied any wrongdoing.

The WGA agreed in its 2010 settlement of the suit filed by William Richert to use its “best efforts” to pay all foreign funds within three years and said in July that it was holding $25.38 million “due to members” without breaking out how much of that is from foreign levies.

Richert complained Monday that the he had “serious concerns” about the implementation of the settlement and accused the WGA of repeatedly delaying payments to members. West told Richert that he needed to be patient.

SAG announced earlier this year that it had created an online Foreign Royalties tracker for actors and asserted that the guild has collected $18.1 million in foreign royalties for performers and has thus far distributed $8.78 million in more than 273,000 checks to more than 76,000 individuals.

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