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Agencies’ Antitrust Suit Against Writers Guild Set for January Hearing

The antitrust suit filed by Hollywood’s major agencies against the Writers Guild of America has been set for a Jan. 17 hearing.

U.S. District Court Judge Andre Birotte issued the calendar update this week on the litigation, filed on Sept. 27 by CAA, UTA and WME after the agencies consolidated their individual agency suits. The action accuses the WGA of abusing its collective bargaining authority by ordering its members to fire their agents and engaging in an unlawful “power grab.”

The guild filed last month for a dismissal of the antitrust suit and sought a Dec. 6 hearing. The WGA asserted in that filing that an antitrust claim fails because the guilds’ conduct is “fully protected” by the labor exemption in federal antitrust law.

The WGA and the major agencies have been at war for seven months. The guild directed its 15,000 members to fire their agents on April 12 if the agents had not signed the WGA Code of Conduct, which bars the agencies from collecting packaging fees and engaging in affiliate production.

The union argues that the fees create an unlawful conflict of interest. More than 70 agencies — including mid-size agencies Abrams, Buchwald, Kaplan Stahler and Verve — have signed deals with the WGA with those bans in place.

Birotte’s latest order sets a deadline of Friday for the agencies to file a motion to dismiss the the WGA’s counterclaims, a Dec. 11 deadline for the WGA to file its response and a Jan. 3 deadline for the agencies to file a reply.

The WGA filed suits against the agencies in April in state court and re-filed in August in federal court in response to the agencies’ antritrust suits. It accused the agencies of stalling in a statement issued Thursday.

“The agencies have claimed for months that the WGA lawsuits are ridiculous and without merit,” the statement said. “Now that they have the opportunity to get a quick decision on motions to dismiss, they have gone into stall mode. They can see the freight train coming down the tracks. The Guild, meanwhile, pushed for the earliest possible date for hearings on both our claims and those filed by the agencies.”

The consolidated suit by the agencies seeks a jury trial, an injunction against the WGA, triple damages and attorney fees.

“Plaintiffs have and will continue to lose work, lose clients (thousands so far), lose packaging fees, and suffer irreparable harm to its business and property as a result of WGA’s unlawful conspiracy,” the agencies’ complaint said. “In addition, the ultimate consumers of film and television shows will be injured by the reduction in film and television output caused by WGA’s conspiracy.”

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