In a new letter sent to its members on Thursday, the Association of Talent Agents asked its member agencies to track any manager or lawyer that attempts to serve as a substitute for agents as Writers Guild of America members continue to terminate their representation.
The letter also serves as another warning from the ATA of a possible countersuit to the lawsuit filed by the WGA yesterday against WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners. The suit claims that the four major agencies are violating their fiduciary duty to their clients through their continued use of packaging fees in negotiations with studios.
While it did not mention that WGA suit in its latest statement, the ATA warned the WGA that its plans to have managers and lawyers represent writers in place of agents would lead to possible litigation, arguing that such a plan would violate California and New York state law ruling that only agents can “procure employment” for talent.
The letter cites multiple case rulings from the California Labor Commission to support its argument, saying that according to the California Talent Agencies Act, only licensed agents can engage in “any active participation in a communication with a potential purchaser of the artist’s services aimed at obtaining employment for the artist, regardless of who initiated the communication.”
“We request that, to the extent you are aware of managers and attorneys who are embracing the WGA’s request to procure and negotiate employment in violation of the law, you track this information and the names of those who are participating in unfair competition, and provide that information to ATA’s attorneys,” reads the ATA’s statement to agencies.
The California Talent Agencies Act, which was enacted in 1978, has traditionally been used to protect artists from unscrupulous and unqualified would-be agents. The ATA has described it as “an important protection for artists, requiring that those who represent them to meet minimum requirements and subject themselves to state regulation.”
But now the TAA is being used by the ATA as protection for its member agencies from an attempt by the Writers Guild to help its members navigate the ongoing TV staffing season and other potential pay negotiations without the agents that thousands of members have left behind over the guild’s new Code of Conduct requiring agencies to eliminate packaging fees.
The WGA has even said in a statement to its members that it will reimburse lawyers and managers who perform agent functions on behalf of their clients and lose payments because of TAA violations.
“The WGA leadership’s letter is just their latest tactic to flout established law and take for themselves uncharted power at the expense of not just agents, but of their members, and other stakeholders throughout the industry,” said the ATA.
The WGA argues that the objections against their plans to deputize managers and lawyers are based on a “misunderstanding” of the TAA.
“Nothing in the Act limits writers’ right to receive necessary representation, including from the managers and attorneys who have long provided representation services separate and apart from the services provided by agents,” said the Guild in a letter sent to members on Monday.