After more than a year of conflict, the United Talent Agency and the WGA reached a settlement Wednesday. The standoff began in April 2019, when more 7,000 members of the Writers Guild of America fired their agents under Guild orders; it intensified when three of the country’s “Big Four” talent agencies retaliated by suing the union for restraint of trade.
“After many long discussions and significant work by both sides, we’ve successfully found middle ground that sets asides our core differences,” UTA co-president Jay Sures wrote in a statement, Deadline reports.
As part of the agreement, UTA will drop its federal antitrust suit against WGA, although Creative Artists Agency and William Morris Endeavor have not indicated that they will walk away from their own legal battle with the union.
At the heart of the issue was the decades-old use of lucrative “packaging” deals, in which agents are paid directly by studios for attaching talent to a writer’s pitch, rather than earning a percentage of the income they negotiate for their clients. In a major win for the WGA, UTA has agreed to wean itself off that practice in two years.
In a score for UTA, however, the agency has stuck to its guns and won a concession from the Guild that it doesn’t have to abide by the WGA’s stringent “Code of Conduct,” which even some writers find to restricting.
“To be clear, we did not sign the Guild’s Code of Conduct, which was unacceptable to us from the start,” Sures pointed out. “But we were able to find a path forward that works for both UTA and the WGA.”
UTA also refused to concede to Guild demands that the agency share writers’ contract or financial details without the client’s approval.
“This is information the Guild had insisted we hand over to them whether you consented or not, and it was a core sticking point,” Sures writes. “We expressed willingness to provide contract information but only if you do not object. Our agreement is that if you tell us not to provide your contract information to the Guild, we will not do so. Without this, UTA would not have made this agreement.”
There is, however, at least one thorn in this otherwise rosy truce. The end of packaging will only take place if “the Guild reaches a similar arrangement with one of the other major talent agencies.”
So the core of the agreement circles the drain unless WME, CAA, or ICM Partners—which is not party to the lawsuits—can also stomach abandoning the trusted money-printing technique. Hopeful sources tell Deadline that another agency deal is currently percolating.
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