Big 3 Talent Agencies Say COVID-19 Presents New “Difficulties” In Legal Battle With WGA Over Packaging Fees

Hollywood’s Big 3 talent agencies told a federal judge today that the WGA’s discovery demands for thousands of documents “has been independently challenged by the difficulties associated with remote discovery caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” WME, CAA and UTA, which have been locked in a yearlong legal battle with the guild over packaging fees, made that point today in a reply to the WGA’s opposition to their motion for a temporary stay in the discovery process.

The agencies, which previously had petitioned U.S. District Court Judge Andre Birotte Jr. to dismiss all the guild’s antitrust claims, had asked three weeks ago for a temporary discovery stay until he rules on their motion to dismiss – saying that there’s a “clear possibility” that the judge might do so.

The guild, however, last week filed its opposition to that motion, saying that such a stay would “seriously prejudice the guilds’ ability to defend and prosecute this case,” and that “the agencies are not likely to prevail on their motion to dismiss.”

The agencies today answered again that there is a “clear possibility” that the guild’s claims “to which these document requests exclusively relate will be dismissed, rendering wasteful any judicial and party efforts to deal with them now.”

“In the event that the [WGA’s] counterclaims are dismissed, the duration of a limited stay of document requests concerning those counterclaims will not matter,” the agencies said in today’s brief. “And in the event they are not dismissed, the parties can meet-and-confer about the case schedule, which has been independently challenged by the difficulties associated with remote discovery caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – as Counterclaimants acknowledge.”

There are 16 of 80 document requests at issue. The WGA, the agencies say, “vastly understate[s] the costs to the agencies – and to the Court – of dealing with 16 extremely expansive document requests that might soon be rendered moot…Request-after-request seeking ‘all’ documents concerning inter-agency communications back to 1999, virtually every note taken at an Association of Talent Agents meeting, every communication with the ATA, travel logs, expense reports, calendars, notepads, voice mails, diaries, Rolodexes, etc., can hardly be dealt with at ‘minimal, if any, additional burden.’”

A year ago, the WGA ordered all its members to fire their agents who refused to sign its agency code of conduct, which banned packaging fees and agency affiliations with corporately related production entities. The WGA and the ATA last met June 7, with the guild claiming that the big agencies have refused to bargain for a new franchise agreement ever since.

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