WGA class-action suit back on track

Legal action over foreign levies dates back to 2005

The WGA’s efforts to settle a 2005 class-action suit over foreign levies appear to be back on track.

The tangled legal action — which covers millions of dollars collected for but not delivered to writers — had hit a roadblock in March when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carl West called the case a “mess” and ordered both sides to meet with Judge William Highberger to work out a settlement.

But attorneys for both sides told West at a Wednesday hearing that meetings with Highberger had resolved a variety of settlement issues. That led West to order both sides to file a preliminary settlement agreement by May 20 and return to court May 26 for a hearing.

“I’m glad to see everyone smiling,” West said during the 10-minute hearing.

The outlook for the case had become clouded six weeks ago when lead plaintiff William Richert, who’s been designated as the class representative for WGA members, had strongly objected to the settlement (Daily Variety, March 24). Richert indicated Wednesday he was safisfied with the modifications.

“I think it’s the best settlment we could hope for, given the circumstances,” Richert told Daily Variety after the hearing. “We still have a lot of latitude to pursue funds from the studios.”

At stake in the suit are millions of dollars in foreign funds due to authors as compensation for reuse — such as taxes on video rentals, cable retransmissions and purchases of blank videocassettes and DVDs. Unlike in the U.S., writers, actors and directors in most other nations cannot surrender the copyright on their works.

Settlement talks began in 2006. Richert’s suit alleges the WGA has no authority to collect the funds for non-members, hasn’t communicated that information to the affected writers and hasn’t paid them; WGA officials have said repeatedy that the suit was without merit.

Emma Leheny, representing the WGA, said at the hearing that she was “optimistic” that the settlement would be finalized.

The DGA settled a similar suit last year, declaring it had distributed $48 million in levies to DGA members and $4.9 million to nonmembers. SAG’s facing a similar suit from Ken Osmond that’s yet to be resolved.

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