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Studios Reject WGA Request to Ban Non-Franchised Talent Agents

Studios have rejected a request by the Writers Guild of America to bar non-franchised talent agents if the current franchise agreement expires on April 7, saying it could expose them to extensive legal damages.

The WGA will hold five days of member voting starting March 27 on a proposed “code of conduct” eliminating agency packaging fees and ownership in production companies. Guild leaders have said they expect the code will be approved overwhelmingly. If the agreement expires, the WGA will require members to fire their agents if those agents have not agreed to the new code.

The letter was sent Monday to WGA West executive director David Young from Carol Lombardini, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The AMPTP serves as the negotiating arm for the studios in master contracts with Hollywood labor unions.

The letter was disclosed with less than two weeks before the expiration of the current franchise agreement. The WGA is demanding the elimination of agencies receiving packaging fees and having ownership interest in affiliate production companies — demands that the agencies have insisted are not feasible. The WGA and Association of Talent Agents are set to hold another negotiating session on Tuesday.

Nearly 800 prominent showrunners and screenwriters signed a letter released over the weekend that endorsed the WGA’s efforts to reform decades-old industry practices involving agencies taking packaging fees on film and TV projects as well as other issues such as the expansion of the parent companies of the largest agencies into the production arena.

Lombardini said the WGA requested on Feb. 4 that the companies re-open negotiations on the current contract — which expires on May 1, 2020 — in order for a clause to be added to its master contract that would prohibit AMPTP-represented companies from doing business with any talent agency that fails to reach a new agreement with the WGA. She added that the companies have been asked to participate in a group boycott of talent agencies that do not meet with guild approval.

“We believe that doing so would subject them, the WGA and individual writers to a substantial risk of liability for antitrust violations, including claims for treble damages,” she said. “The Companies would also be at risk for violation of federal labor laws as well as state laws. For these reasons, we respectfully decline your invitation to reopen the Basic Agreement to negotiate a provision such as the one you have suggested. We remain hopeful that the WGA and the talent agencies will reach a successful resolution of their negotiations for a new WGA/talent agency agreement.”

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