The three major talent agencies have withdrawn their offer to turn over details of all active TV packaging deals to the Writers Guild of America, following a judge’s ruling last week dismissing most of the guild’s legal claims.
“The Guilds’ ‘conflict-of-interest’ Counterclaims are now gone, entirely,” the agencies’ attorneys wrote. “In these changed circumstances, the Agencies’ prior offer to produce the entirety of their packaging files for active packaging deals is no longer warranted or fitting.”
The agencies and the guild are heading for a trial in March 2021 on an array of issues surrounding the year-long battle over packaging fees. In April 2019, the guild directed its thousands of members to fire their agencies, after the agencies refused to stop accepting fees from producers for packaging their clients into projects. The union argues that the fees — a major source of revenue for agencies — suppress writers’ wages and pose a conflict of interest.
Now that Birotte has dealt with both sides’ motions to dismiss, the next battleground will be over discovery. Each side is looking for emails, contracts, or other documents from the other that will support their claims at trial. The discovery process is expected to be costly — in the millions of dollars — due to the expansive issues in play.
In April, the agencies told the court that they were willing to turn over their central files on every active scripted TV deal, or about 1,000 deals. They also agreed to provide discovery from 15 individual agents at each agency. The guilds, meanwhile, argued that was inadequate, and sought information from 50 individuals at each agency.
The agencies objected, saying that would cost them an additional $10 million above the millions they had already agreed to spend. The guilds have argued that the agencies’ cost estimate is inflated, and that the documents are necessary to properly defend themselves from the agencies’ antitrust allegations.
But after Birotte dismissed the guild’s racketeering and federal price-fixing claims last week, the agencies’ position has changed. The agencies are now willing to produce only documents relevant to a handful of writers who are pursuing individual claims, along with “a meaningful and appropriate cross-section” of its active TV packaging deals.
“This proffered production is sufficient to permit an adjudication of whether any individual Counterclaimant’s deal manifests a breach of fiduciary duty or constructive fraud,” the agencies argued.
The agencies allege that the guild violated federal antitrust law when it directed its members to fire their agents. The guild wants to explore the details of packaging arrangements — and to uncover evidence that it suppresses writers’ wages — in order to argue that the agency boycott is a reasonable exercise of union power in response to a legitimate concern.