ICM Responds to WGA Packaging Lawsuit: Claims are ‘Baseless’ and ‘Absurd’

ICM Partners has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed against four major talent agencies by the Writers Guild of America as part of the larger war between agencies and the guild over packaging fees on TV series and movies.

The guild sued ICM, CAA, WME and UTA in California state court in April, on the heels of implementing a new Code of Conduct governing how talent agencies can represent guild members. That move sparked the mass firings of agents by more than 7,000 guild members. The WGA is trying to eliminate the decades-old practice of packaging by asserting that it is a conflict of interest that harms guild members in the long run. The agencies have balked at the guild’s self-described “power grab” and challenged the WGA’s effort to brand as illegal a practice that was expressly recognized as allowed by the terms of the guild’s previous franchise agreement with major talent agents.

ICM’s response asserts that WGA lacks the standing to sue the agencies for breach of fiduciary duty because the agency has no obligation to the guild itself.

“It’s rare to see such a baseless complaint,” ICM attorney Marvin Putnam, of Latham & Watkins, told Variety. “You can’t breach a fiduciary duty that doesn’t exist.”

WME, CAA and UTA last month filed have since filed separate lawsuits against the WGA in federal court, accusing the union of violating anti-trust laws with its campaign to eliminate packaging and agency-affiliated production activities. The agencies say the guild is overreaching the bounds of its authority to regulate how agencies operate. ICM’s response in the state lawsuit echoes the claims made in the federal suits that the WGA’s directive to members to fire agents that don’t adhere to the new code constitutes an “unlawful group boycott.”

“Plaintiffs first attempted their power grab through an unlawful group boycott and mandated mass firing of the agents who represented their writers for decades. Now, plaintiffs seek to eliminate packaging by abusing the court system, brazenly asking this Court to declare packaging illegal,” ICM Partners states in its response to the WGA suit. “But they have no legal basis to do so. Their claims are barred by their own express consent to packaging. Even absent that consent, the claims are not legally cognizable.”

ICM’s filing also takes aim at the WGA’s assertion that packaging fees — a portion of backend profits on series and some films that are paid to agencies by the production entity — amount to a form of bribery.

“Plaintiffs’ final theory — that packaging violates a federal criminal law that prohibits bribing union officials (which agents are most certainly not) — is absurd on its face,” the filing states.

The WGA lawsuit also includes eight individual WGA members as plaintiffs who claim harms from having been involved in packaged series over the years. The ICM response addresses specific claims about the agency raised by plaintiffs Patricia Carr and Chip Johannessen, who were former clients of ICM. In the case of Carr, ICM noted that the incidents of her exposure to packaging that are cited in the WGA complaint relate to jobs that she had before she signed with ICM. In the case of Johannessen, ICM disputes his claim that the agency packaged the 2015 National Geographic TV two-part miniseries “Saints and Strangers.”

“That allegation, however, is wholly false; ICM did not package ‘Saints and Strangers,’ ” the response states.

A hearing in the WGA case is set for Sept. 19.

More TV

  • Bristol, CT - March 13, 2017

    Mina Kimes Helps ESPN Kick Off 'Daily' Podcast

    Mina Kimes is preparing to take ESPN into a new frontier. The sports-media giant has launched a “SportsCenter” for Snapchat and tested baseball telecasts for kids. Now it’s hoping to set up shop in another media venue. Starting tomorrow, the Disney-backed company launches “ESPN Daily,” a weekday morning podcast that aims to tap its vast [...]

  • MIA Wrap

    Rome MIA Market Wraps With Stronger U.S. Presence, Boosts Italy's Industry Standing

    Rome’s MIA market for TV series, feature films and documentaries wrapped positively Sunday with organizers boasting a bump in attendance just as some 2,500 executives departed in an upbeat mood after four days of dealmaking and presentations of mostly European fresh product, which elevated Italy’s global standing in the industry, especially within the TV sector. [...]


    Showrunner Stefano Voltaggio on Netflix's 'Zero' About Black Youths in Italy (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix recently announced a new Italian original titled “Zero” that will mark the first Italian series centered around the present-day lives of black Italian youths. “Zero” is based on several books by young writer and TV music show host Antonio Dikele Distefano, who was born in Italy from Angolan parents. The project was originated by [...]

  • Content-is-King

    Top TV Execs Tackle New Distribution Landscape in Rome

    ROME – In an increasingly complex TV market, with a host of new big-ticket streaming services preparing to enter an already crowded arena, both buyers and sellers are rethinking some of the fundamentals of the TV business as they grapple with the best way to reach global audiences. A host of top producers, network executives, [...]

  • MIA-MARKET-2019_Europe-Producers-Club_4

    European Producers and Broadcasters Debate How to Weather Streaming Storm

    ROME – The impending rollout of Disney Plus, HBO Max, and other new streaming services promises a new era of uncertainty—and opportunity—for broadcasters and producers in an industry already disrupted by the likes of Netflix and Amazon. At a panel hosted by the European Producers Club Friday afternoon during the MIA market in Rome, executives [...]

  • Kevin-Beggs

    Lionsgate TV Chairman Kevin Beggs on Streamers and TV’s ‘Platinum Era’

    ROME – Over the course of two decades in the industry, Lionsgate Television chairman Kevin Beggs has witnessed the ups and downs of a business that has frequently found itself confronting both dizzying new possibilities as well as existential threats. But these days the veteran exec, who oversees the development of all scripted and non-scripted content [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content