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Writers and agents are battling in court over packaging fees

People who make their living writing for television shows and movies have agents who represent them, just as actors do. Many agents work for large talent agencies. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is suing the four primary agencies over their use of packaging fees, which the WGA says violate federal and state law and shortchange writers.

The agencies charge studios packaging fees for a group of professionals in different fields, including writers, actors and directors. The plaintiffs, who include writers of some of the most popular TV series in recent years, claim that agents are more interested in putting together these packages than in representing their individual clients.

The practice of packaging is nothing new. However, as an attorney for the union says, "The abuses of packaging have become increasingly appalling." One plaintiff, who used to write for the series Cold Case, says that her talent agency was making more per episode than she was during at least the first couple of years of the show thanks to packaging.

Agents, on the other hand, argue that writers do better financially when the agency uses packaging because they don't have to pay a commission, which is traditionally 10%.

When the WGA and the agencies (CAA, ICM Partners, UTA and WME) failed to reach an agreement this month, the union urged its members to replace their agents with managers and attorneys. The WGA says that thousands of its members have taken this action. One writer, whose credits include the TV show Lost, wrote on Instagram, "My agents have become my friends. As brutal as it is to send this letter, I unequivocally stand with my sisters and brothers and my union."

The Association of Talent Agents has threatened its own lawsuit over that action. It claims that it constitutes unfair competition and is therefore illegal.

The plaintiffs in the WGA suit, which is in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, are asking for an injunction that would prevent talent agencies from collecting packaging fees. They're also seeking repayment of fees in addition to damages. An attorney for the WGA says, "We will see the litigation through to the end."

Litigation can be costly and time consuming for any company -- no matter what its size. It's essential for any company to have experienced legal guidance, whether it's a plaintiff or defendant.

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