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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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Today in Awesome: Xbox Series X November Launch, BlackPink and Selena Gomez Collaborate

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From new Netflix projects to exciting music collaborations, here’s some awesome news you should know about for Thursday, August, 13.


Microsoft Announces November Launch for Xbox Series X

In gaming news, Microsoft announced this week that we’ll be getting the Xbox Series X in November of this year, but this launch will be a little different than what we’re used to. That’s because 343 Industries, the studio behind Halo Infinite, announced that the game would be delayed until 2021.

Halo Infinite’s controversial gameplay demo.

That delay came after intense criticisms of the game’s look and graphics following a demo in late July. Instead of focusing on exclusive launch titles, which are normally huge draws for new consoles, the new Xbox will be released alongside optimized versions of games currently available.

The launch plan is an expansion on Microsoft’s Smart Delivery system, which allows you to buy a game once and play it across multiple generations of the Xbox. So a lot of your favorite games will have big aesthetic updates and will be backwards compatible with the Series X.


Sarah Cooper, the TikTok Lip Syncher, Gets a Netflix Show

Comedian and TikToker Sarah Cooper has managed to turn her popularity on the platform into a Netflix show. Cooper rose to fame on the app for mocking President Donald Trump using his very own words, which she lip syncs to while making a wide rage of facial expressions.

Soon after her rise in popularity, she signed with Creative Artists of America, one of the largest talent agencies in the world and starting this fall, “Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine” will be available on Netflix.

The show will feature guests for short interviews and also sketches led by Cooper. The show is a prime example of creators spreading their content across platforms and diversifying. This is especially salient considering the news around TikTok, which has been under fire by the U.S. government.


Selena Gomez and Blackpink Collaboration

BlackPink and Selena Gomez have confirmed rumors about a song collaboration. The artists announced on Tuesday that their single will be coming out on August 28 and is part of BlackPink’s upcoming The Album.

The Album is set to release on October 2, and is the first full-length album the extremely successful girl-group has done since 2016.

The k-pop group has increasingly been reaching out to work with Western artists, including the likes of Lady Gaga on “Sour Pink,” released in May of this year.

These collaborative efforts are seen as a growing part of the hallyu trend (hallyu is a Chinese phrase meaning “Korean Wave”) and a chance for Korean artists to make their names better known across the globe, where for decades Western artists have dominated the charts.

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Today in Awesome: Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Possible Return and Ways to Help Students

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Happy Tuesday! Here are some awesome stories that you should know about today, from potential TV show reboots to organizations doing important work for students.


Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Drama Reboot

The first bit of awesome is the news around a “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”
reboot. Back in March 2019, independent filmmaker Morgan Cooper released this mock-trailer for a re-imagined dramatic take on the popular TV show.

Check out the trailer for yourself because reading about it doesn’t do Cooper’s work the justice it deserves.

According to Hollywood Reporter, the video caught the attention of Will Smith, who then approached Cooper and Universal TV (they own the rights to the show) and got them on board for the drama reboot. The current working name for the project is “Bel-Air.”

The project is still in its early stages, being shopped to streaming services such as HBO and Netflix. HBO Max is where “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” currently resides, although it currently up in the air if that will make any difference in negotiations.

Currently, there is no official date for when the project is expected to officially begin.

Organizations That Fight the Digital Divide

Then let’s talk about some organizations doing good. Despite indications that students are susceptible to COVID-19, schools across the nation have plans to reopen classrooms.

Currently, 12 out of 15 of the largest school districts across the country will be doing school remotely. However, unfortunately, many students affected by the decision experience the “digital divide,” a term used to describe the vast disparity between students who have access to tech and those who don’t.

About 9 million children are expected to have difficulty completing assignments online because of bad internet, while 14% of children are thought to have no internet access at home.

But there are organizations working to combat this issue, particularly during the pandemic, where students are more likely to need at-home internet and access to devices that can be used for at-home school work.

One organization catching attention is EveryoneOn, which works to get brands to offer low-cost data and internet for those who need it, while also trying to connect low-income families with those brands.

Community vs. Covid-19 does similar work and is currently raising $20,000 to give devices to students who are in need. They also provide a way for people to set up their own campaigns to try and raise money to help their communities, many of which have raised thousands on their own.

If you have the ability to donate, check out their websites.


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Conservatives Slam Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion Over “WAP” Lyrics

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  • Cardi B released her new song “WAP,” featuring Megan Thee Stallion, which has prompted a mix of reactions online.
  • Some conservatives said the song’s explicit sexual nature sets women back, encourages promiscuity, and is degrading. James P. Bradley, a Republican running for a Congressional seat in California, said it “made me want to pour holy water in my ears.”
  • Fans defended the song as empowering and argued that women should not be shamed for talking about or enjoying sex, especially since men in the industry make similar music without the same level of backlash. 
  • Others were frustrated that Kylie Jenner was featured in the music video, which prompted over 65,000 people to sign a petition asking for her cameo to be removed.

“WAP” Released 

Rapper Cardi B released a new song and music video with Megan Thee Stallion on Friday that took the internet by storm.

The song is called “WAP,” which stands for – well, if you know you know– and it’s already amassed over 59 million views on YouTube as of Monday morning. It’s no secret that the song is explicit and if you’ve spent any time on the internet this weekend, you’ve probably seen a huge range of reactions to it.

Criticism Over Explicit Lyrics 

Some were quick to slam the song for its sexual nature. For instance, James P. Bradley, a Republican running for a Congressional seat in California, tweeted: “Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion are what happens when children are raised without God and without a strong father figure. Their new “song” The #WAP (which i heard accidentally) made me want to pour holy water in my ears and I feel sorry for future girls if this is their role model!.”

DeAnna Lorraine, another Republican and former congressional candidate from California made similar remarks, tweeting: “Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion just set the entire female gender back by 100 years with their disgusting & vile “WAP” song.” 

She even pointed to specific lyrics she took issue with and claimed the song should be banned.

Still, Bradley and Lorraine weren’t alone. Other politicians made similar remarks about the song being degrading and encouraging promiscuity.

All the comments were met with backlash for several reasons, but in general, many pointed to double standards in the music industry since men often sexualize women without the same level of criticism. Others said the song is empowering and that women shouldn’t be shamed for talking about or enjoying sex. 

Cardi B, for her part, seems to be enjoying the outrage. She responded to news of conservatives wanting her song banned by saying, “THIS IS KINDA ICONIC AND IM LIVING FOR IT.”

In fact, Cardi and others have even been making jokes about the explicit nature of the song. When Charlemagne tha God pretended to be offended by the lyrics, Cardi issued an “apology” to “all ass eaters.”

“We didn’t want to offend any ass eaters around the world especially offending ya by calling ya a derogatory word such as ‘bottom feeder.’ This have tough us a lesson and we will never do it again,” she teased. 

For the most part, however, it seems like many have been loving the song and supporting the two rappers, and all of the outrage over the lyrics has actually just inspired a slew of memes and joking responses. 

For example, one user told Lorraine, “If you don’t got that gorilla grip just say dat.”  

Meanwhile, music critic Anthony Fantano said, “if you hate WAP, you’re bad at f–king.”

Outrage Over Kylie Jenner

The lyrics weren’t the only reason the rappers faced backlash this weekend. Many were also frustrated by the fact that Kylie Jenner made a cameo appearance in the music video.

At one point in it, the music stops as Jenner walks down a hallway and opens a door. However, she wasn’t the only star who made an appearance. Near the end, artists like Normani, Rosalía, Mulatto, Sukihana, and Rubi Rose were featured, with Normani, in particular, having a dance number.

Still, many felt that Jenner was given too much screen time in comparison or shouldn’t have been included at all.  There’s even a change.org petition to have her cameo cut from the video that has over 65,000 signatures. 

One user also shared her frustrations about Jenner’s appearance online, writing, “Normani did ALL this and Kylie walked down the hall and opened a door. If that’s not a perfect visual indication of Black women having to do the most and white women do the bare minimum work to get somewhere, I don’t know what it.”

However, Cardi B responded to that post in a series of now-deleted tweets. “Normani is one of the best female artists that dances Like she dances her fuckin ass off!” Cardi wrote. “Why would she open a door? Please tell me how that would make sense? The best of the song is the beat and hook  it makes you want to shake your ass.” 

She also added, “Not everything is about race,” saying that there are other issues in the world that are, which she speaks on. 

Finally, she added, “why did i put Kylie on my music video? She treated my sister and daughter so lovely at her kid bday party. Travis and Set are real close and Kris Jenner have giving [sic] me advice on certain things I ask for and her husband real cool with mine.”

Cardi also agreed with another person’s tweet, which said Normal danced because that is her talent, and Kylie “strutted like a model,” because that’s hers. 

Still, others noted that whether you like Jenner or not, her presence got more people talking about the video, which likely brought in even more views as people became curious to see what all the outrage was about. 

See what others are saying: (Metro UK)  (Junkee) (EOnline

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