Writers Guild and Agencies Aim for Trial in March 2021

WGA strike
Curt Merlo for Variety

The Writers Guild of America and three major agencies are aiming for a federal trial in March 2021, according to a court filing on Friday.

Since April, the agencies — UTA, CAA and WME — have been locked in a high-stakes showdown with the writers over packaging fees and affiliate production. The two sides have sued each other in federal court, which each accusing the other of orchestrating an illegal group boycott in violation of federal antitrust law.

The two sides laid out a proposed schedule for the litigation in a report to U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte on Friday. The parties estimate that a trial would take 20-30 days.

It is still possible that Birotte could dismiss one or both complaints, or that the two sides could reach a negotiated settlement. But if the case goes all the way to a jury, the standoff between the agents and writers will continue for a long time.

The guild instructed its members to fire their agents in April, after the agencies refused to sign the guild’s new code of conduct. The code bars agencies from accepting packaging fees or from owning production companies, which the guild sees as a conflict of interest.

The agencies sued over the summer, alleging that the guild had violated the antitrust laws. The WGA countered that it was immune from the antitrust suit because it was acting on behalf of its members’ benefit. Earlier this month, Birotte indicated that he would deny the WGA’s motion to dismiss the agencies’ lawsuit. A final ruling has not yet been issued.

The guild countersued the agencies, accusing them of violating the antitrust laws by bargaining solely through the Association of Talent Agents, its trade group. A hearing on the agencies’ motion to dismiss the WGA’s countersuit is set for next month.

The proposed schedule also sets out timelines for discovery and pretrial motions. A scheduling conference is set for Jan. 10.