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Charges Dropped Against Jussie Smollett

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  • Charges were dropped against actor Jussie Smollett, who was accused of staging an attack against himself.
  • Both he and his attorneys have released statements maintaining his innocence.
  • Meanwhile, the Chicago Police and Mayor believe justice was not served in this case.

Charges Dropped

Charges against actor Jussie Smollett have been dropped by Chicago prosecutors.

Less than two weeks ago, Smollett pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of disorderly conduct for falsifying a police report. The actor from FOX’s show, Empire, was accused of staging a hate crime against himself in January.

Smollett told police that two men beat him, used racial and homophobic slurs, tied a rope around his neck, and poured bleach on him. Police later said that Smollett staged the attack and paid the two men to do so. Smollett has maintained his innocence.

On Tuesday morning, he appeared in court in Chicago for an emergency hearing. He agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bond to the city of Chicago. All charges were dropped against him, his record was expunged, and the court records were sealed.

Kim Foxx, a Cook County state attorney, released a statement calling this an appropriate resolution.

“After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case,” her statement read, “including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case.”

Right now, it is unclear what prompted prosecutors to call the emergency hearing and drop the charges. According to a report from TMZ, questions arose regarding the check police alleged Smollet paid the attackers. The check may have actually been used to pay for physical training. This report, however, is unverified.

First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats told the Chicago Sun-Times that this decision does not mean there were flaws in the case against Smollett.

“We stand behind the CPD investigation done in this case, we stand behind the approval of charges in this case…They did a fantastic job. The fact there was an alternative disposition in this case is not and should not be viewed as some kind of admission there was something wrong with the case, or something wrong with the investigation that the Chicago Police did.”

Smollett and His Team Respond

Smollett’s attorneys also released a statement where they claimed Smollett was the victim, and was falsely vilified.

“Jussie was attacked by two people he was unable to identify on January 29th. He was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgement.”

“Jussie and many others were hurt by these unfair and unwarranted actions. This entire situation is a reminder that there should never be an attempt to prove a case in the court of public opinion.”

Smollett also spoke out himself in a press briefing outside the courthouse on Tuesday.

“I want you to know that not for a moment was it in vain,” he told reporters.  “I’ve been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one. I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I have been accused of.”

Chicago Police and Mayor Respond

Chicago Police Commander Ed Wodnicki called the prosecutor’s choice to drop charges a “kick in the gut.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also disagreed with their decision, calling it “whitewashed.”

“This is without a doubt a whitewash of justice,” he said during a press conference. “And sends a clear message that if you’re in a position of influence or power you will be treated one way. Other people will be treated another way. There is no accountability in the system.”

See What Others Are Saying: (Chicago Sun Times) (CBS Chicago) (CNN)

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Hollywood Writers Sue Their Agents Over Pay and Competition Issues

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  • The Writer’s Guild of America is suing four major talent agencies alleging unfair competition practices and pay issues.
  • The WGA claims that the packaging fees that agents take as part of representing writers are illegal under California and federal law.
  • In some cases, the WGA says agents take 80 percent of packaging fees that are paid by the studios, rather than the standard 10 percent of a writers’ income.
  • The lawsuit was dropped after the agencies refused to sign the WGA’s code of conduct, which banned packaging fees.

Lawsuit Filed

The Writers Guild of America filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against four major talent agencies in a fight over writers’ wages and unfair competition practices.

The Guild and eight other writers, including The Wire creator David Simon, filed the complaint in a California superior court against William Morris Endeavor, Creative Artists Agency, United Talent Agency, and ICM Partners.

The main issue at hand focuses on “packing fees.” These are deals that allow agents to be paid directly by studios for bringing clients together on a project, instead of having agents receive a standard 10 percent of a writers’ income.

According to the WGA, the Big Four agencies currently receive about 80 percent of the packaging fees that are paid by studios.

One plaintiff, Meredith Stiehm, who created the CBS police drama Cold Case, said that after about six years with CAA, she learned that the agency made 94 cents for each dollar she made from the show.

That is indefensible,” she during a press conference. “An agency should make 10% of what their client makes—not 20, not 50, not like in my case, 94%. 10% is enough.”

The Claims

Along with issues about pay, the writers are also concerned about other ways the industry operates. For instance, they take issue with the trend of agents becoming producers themselves, which creates conflicts of interests.

In the lawsuit, WGA makes two legal claims: that packaging fees violate state fiduciary duty laws, and that those fees violate federal unfair competition laws.

First, under California state law, talent agents are considered fiduciaries. This means they are bound to represent writers, without conflicts of interest. Second, the Guild says that packaging fees constitute illegal “kickbacks” to agents, which would be a violation of both state and federal law.

The lawsuit cites the Taft-Hartley Act, a federal law passed in 1947. The anti-kickback section of the act prohibits “any employer or association of employers to pay, lend, or deliver, or agree to pay, lend, or deliver, any money or other thing of value … to any representative of any of his employees who are employed in an industry affecting commerce.”

Lawyers for the WGA argue that agency packaging fees fall under this ban.

“The plaintiffs will seek a judicial declaration that packaging fees are unlawful and an injunction prohibiting talent agencies from entering into future packaging deals,” Tony Segall, general counsel for the Writers Guild of America West, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

“The suit will also seek damages and repayment of illegal profits on behalf of writers who have been harmed by these unlawful practices in the past,” he added.

How We Got Here

The WGA has been trying to address this issue in recent days. The writers and agents have been without an agreement to govern their relationship with each other since one expired last weekend.

In fact, the WGA had even drafted a code of conduct for agencies that calls for the banning of packaging fees. Around 95 percent of the Guild’s members voted in favor of implementing it and the Guild then asked agencies to sign it. The Big Four agencies refused.

At one point during negotiations, Talent Agencies offered writers a 1 percent cut of their production fee money, but the Guild says that proposal was unacceptable.

On Saturday, the WGA told writers to fire agents who refuse to sign the union’s code of conduct. Some writers complied and have posted images of the letters they had sent to their agents. The letters say that under union rules, they can’t be represented by the agency until a negotiation is reached.

WGA West President David Goodman said the lawsuit shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. “We always had this as part of our strategy,” he said.

“The lawsuit is really at attempt to try and address the situation and make agencies realize this has to be fixed. It wasn’t a matter of the negotiations falling apart and then there was a lawsuit. It’s all part of the same thing.”

Defense

The Association of Talent Agents stands by the packaging fees. In its FAQ sections, the ATA writes, “Packaging agencies help assemble a show’s creative elements before the show is pitched to potential buyers and continue to service the show during its lifecycle.”

If packaging fees were to be eliminated, the ATA says “those packaging fees likely would not be redistributed in any way to talent.

The ATA also noted that United Talent Agency’s analysis found that its writers earn more money on shows that the agency packed and less on shows that it didn’t.

They issued a response to the lawsuit late Wednesday saying, “This development is ironic given that the guild itself has agreed to the legitimacy of packaging for more than 43 years. Even more ironic is the fact that the statute the WGA is suing under prevents abuses of power and authority by labor union leaders, even as the guild has intimidated its own members and repeatedly misled them about their lack of good faith in the negotiating room.”

What now?

Neither side appears to be willing to budge on the issue. The WGA says negotiations can continue as the lawsuit moves forward, with Goodman saying the WGA is waiting for the ATA to make contact with his team.

Without a deal soon, Hollywood productions could be stuck in limbo, leaving thousands of writers without work and hundreds of studio projects on hold.

“The agencies are the ones who’ve made it clear that they’re not taking it seriously. If they’re ready to do that, we’re here,” Goodman said.

The WGA has released a list of agencies that have agreed to their code of conduct and can represent its members. However, the Big Four agencies dominate much of the industry.

The tension unfolding between both parties is unprecedented and a meaningful agreement could change the industry practices for years to come.

See what others are saying: (Deadline) (The Hollywood Reporter) (The Washington Post)

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Taylor Swift Donates to Tennessee LGBT Group

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  • Taylor Swift donated $113,000 to an LGBT rights group in Tennessee.
  • The group is specifically fighting several bills that are currently floating in various stages of the state’s government and that will impact the rights of the LGBT community.

Taylor’s Donation

Pop star Taylor Swift donated $113,000 dollars on Monday to an LGBT rights group in Tennesse.

Swift’s donation was given to the Tennessee Equality Project, which fights to stop anti-LGBT legislation from passing within the state, and aims to educate the community on equality.

TEP’s Executive Director, Chris Sanders, posted news of Swift’s charitable contribution to Facebook. He thanked her for being a long-time ally and said, “she sees our struggle in Tennessee and continues to add her voice with so many good people.”

With his post, he also shared a hand-written letter Swift addressed to him, where she said she was “inspired” by TEP’s work, specifically noting their stance against the “Slate of Hate.”

Anti-LGBT Bills in Tennessee

The “Slate of Hate” Swift mentions in her letter refers to a series of bills proposed in Tennessee’s General Assembly that could negatively impact the LGBT community. TEP created “The People’s Petition Against the Slate of Hate” to fight against them.

These bills include HB1152 and HB836, which both aim to allow adoption agencies to deny services based on religious beliefs, which TEP called “state-sanctioned discrimination.”

The slate also includes HB1369, which is known as “The Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act.” This act defines natural marriage as between a man and a woman and allows courts to void the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized gay marriage.

There are also two pieces of legislation that TEP specifically believes will target the transgender community. The first being HB1151, which is an amendment to the state’s indecent exposure rules that expand it to specifically include incidents in restrooms, fitting rooms, and locker rooms. The TEP called this bill a “devious attempt to criminalize transgender and gender nonconforming people” in these settings.

Then there is also HB1274, which some refer to as the “bathroom bill.” This would require the state’s Attorney General to defend schools that mandate that students and faculty use the bathroom of their “biological sex.” This bill also just passed through Tennesee’s House on Monday.

TEP released a statement on these bills, that was also backed by over 100 religious leaders in the state, ranging from pastors to rabbis.

“As residents of Tennessee, we oppose these bills in the Tennessee General Assembly,” the statement reads. “They promote discrimination rather than justice and demean the worth of LGBTQ people in our state.  We call on people of good will to join us in speaking out for basic fairness.”

Reactions to Swift’s Donation

The “Shake it Off” singer’s donation trended online, and was met with positivity.

Ellen Degeneres tweeted her praise.

The Human Rights Campaign thanked her for supporting their “incredible partners.”

Taylor’s Past Political Actions

This hefty donation is not Swift’s first jump into Tennessee politics. Back in October, she made a long post on Instagram about her choice to use her voice for politics and endorsed Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen.

Photo via Instagram, @taylorswift

She also encouraged her followers to head to Vote.org to register before the upcoming midterms, which lead to a surge of registrations. The site said they received 65,000 new registrations in the 24 hours after she posted, which is more than they received throughout the whole month of August.

See what others are saying: (Tennessean) (The Hollywood Reporter) (Jezebel)

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Amanda Seyfried’s Fans Defend Her After Nude Photos Resurface

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  • Old explicit images of actress Amanda Seyfried have resurfaced online.
  • The photos were stolen from the star and released in 2017 during the second wave of celebrity nude photo leaks.
  • Fans have defended Seyfried in recent days, calling for social media users to stop sharing the photos.

Photos Resurface

Explicit nude photos of actress Amanda Seyfried resurfaced on social media over the weekend, prompting fans to speak out in her defense and condemn the invasion of privacy.

Seyfried is one of several stars who had personal photos stolen and released without consent in 2017. The leak was dubbed “The Fappening 2.0” which is a reference to the first major celebrity nude photo leak that happened in 2014.

Along with Seyfried, the second wave of leaks affected stars like Emma Watson and Jillian Murray. The leaked photos of Seyfried reportedly show the actress performing a sex act on her then-boyfriend, Justin Long.

Seyfried and others have taken legal action to fight back against the invasion of privacy, but the images have been lingering on the internet for years.

Fans React

Many Twitter users make jokes about the photos, calling the actress “goals” and “iconic.”

However, the jokes outraged fans who reminded users that this is a huge invasion of privacy.

See what others are saying: (Hollywood Life) (Celebrity Insider) (The Inquisitor)  

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