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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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Cardi B Defends Offset From Cheating Accusations Citing Alleged Instagram Hack

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  • Sarah “Jade” Wattley, the girlfriend of rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine, recently showed a flirty DM sent to her from Migos Rapper Offset’s Instagram account. 
  • Soon after, Offset and his wife, rap superstar Cardi B, brushed off the rumors and explained that his account had been hacked.
  • It is unclear at this time if authorities have been contacted over the issue, but as of now, no person has been named responsible for the hack. 

Flirty DM Surfaces

Rapper Cardi B defended her husband Offset from cheating allegations Tuesday saying that a message he allegedly sent to another woman was actually the work of a hacker. 

The Migos rapper was recently accused of flirting with Sarah “Jade” Wattley, the girlfriend of rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine. 

In a video recently posted on Jade’s Instagram account, she recorded herself opening a direct message from Offet’s verified account. The message, sent at 1:36 a.m. read: “Miss u  fr.”

In the caption of her now-deleted post, Jade slammed Offset for the DM, saying: “Your wife @iamcardib has a OPEN CRIMINAL CASE , why are you writing me you don’t respect her ??????? Theirs a lot of s— I haven’t exposed yet , but there’s a time for that 😭😭😭🌈 I’m the QUEEN 👑 of talking s— now I’m backing it up 🎼😂🤡.”

The message sparked a wave of backlash from fans who noted that Cardi and Offset had already reconciled their marriage after previous reports of Offset cheating. On top of that, Cardi and Jade and known to have a tense history with one another.

Earlier this year, Cardi was indicted on 14 charges, including two counts of felony assault with the intent to cause injury after she was accused of ordering an attack on Jade and another bartender at a New York Strip club last year. 

Some reports indicate that the attack stemmed from rumors that Jade had slept with Offset, though Jade has denied having any relationship with him several times.  Another rumor suggests that the fight was prompted by a “drink being spilled on Cardi, whose actions have been described as ‘spontaneous and completely unpremeditated,’” the Daily Mail reports.

Cardi Defends Offset 

Cardi quickly defended her husband against cheating rumors, saying that his account was hacked. 

In a video posted on her social media, Cardi explains that they were woken up with news of the hack. In the background, another person is shown trying to regain access to Offert’s account. 

“Babe, I know you done some dumb s—, everybody know he’s done some dumb s—, but c’mon, n—s ain’t dumb, n—s ain’t crazy,” she said.  “We’ve been so good, we had a sweet weekend, life has been good,” Cardi added. “That’s why I ain’t getting no rowdy. Simple as that. Okay, love you guys.”

In additional videos, Offset explained that his email had been compromised, giving his hacker access to his account. He said he’s been dealing with this issue for months and has also had unreleased songs leaked because of it. 

Interset users also posted screenshots of tweets sent from his official account that seem to signal a potential hack. 

Still Jade hit back at the hacker claims saying, ‘the hack started after you got exposed.” “Why it didn’t start at 1 am,” she added.

If Offset and Cardi’s claims are true, it is unclear at this time if authorities have been contacted over the issue. As of now, no person has been named responsible for the hack. However, celebrity social media hacks are by no means uncommon and have been known to even impact major executives, including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. 

See what others are saying: (E! News) (XXL Magazine) (PEOPLE

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Celebrities Praise Pop Star Kim Petras for Posing in Front of Anti-LGBTQ Protestors

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  • After billboards for singer Kim Petras suddenly appeared near the Westboro Baptist Chuch headquarters, the church asked members to picket outside of the transgender singers’ Kansas City concert.
  • Petras responded by holding a photo shoot in front of the protestors while dressed in a black thong bodysuit and thigh-high boots.
  • Fans and celebs have since flooded Petras’ social media with praise and support for her response. 

Westboro Baptist Church Calls for Protest 

Celebrities are praising transgender pop star Kim Petras for trolling Westboro Baptist churchgoers who were protesting outside of her show in Kansas City, Missouri on Sunday. 

A few weeks before the concert, four Kim Petras billboards suddenly appeared in Topeka, Kansas where the headquarters of the infamously anti-LGBTQ church is located. Though it was unclear who was responsible for the suspiciously placed signs, the singer seemed to approve of the move. 

The church, which is known for its inflammatory hate speech, later issued a statement calling for its members to picket outside of her Kansas City show. In the statement, the church repeatedly misgenders her and calls her a “sad soul.”

But Petras hit back with a statement of her own.

In a social media post, Petras wrote, “this is my official statement on wbc picketing my show in kansas tomorrow. this is the energy i’m bringing n it should be yours too.” The post also featured a video compilation of Petras meeting fans and performing in music videos over Famous Dex’s track “Hoes Mad.”

Kim Petras’ Photo Shoot 

Members of the ultra-conservative church followed through on their promise to protest and stood outside the venue holding signs like “God still hates f**s.” 

But Petras once again fired back with a unique response. The singer took the opportunity to hold a photo shoot in front of the protestors. In a video posted to her social media, Petras drops her coat and poses in a black thong bodysuit and thigh-high boots while the picketers stand in the background. The caption on the post reads, “update: hoes still mad…” 

View this post on Instagram

update. hoes still mad …

A post shared by KIM PETRAS (@kimpetras) on

The comments under her Instagram post quickly flooded with support from fans and fellow celebrities. Demi Lovato commented “YAAASSSS,” while Katy Perry wrote “Icon.” 

“Stay winning bb girl,” Madison Beer responded, with Tinashe writing “Yuppppp.”

James Charles simply commented “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAA,” meanwhile Tyler Oakley added, “This is holy to me.” 

According to Insider, when asked for a comment about Petras’ post the Westboro Baptist church said it’s “happy” that Petras is “helping get the following message from Christ out to the masses,” and included a Bible excerpt of Matthew 19:4-6 in its email.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (Uproxx) (Entertainment Tonight

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Gabrielle Union’s AGT Firing Sparks SAG-AFTRA Investigation

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  • SAG-AFTRA, a labor union representing actors, has launched a probe into Gabrielle Union’s complaints while on the set of America’s Got Talent, as well as her subsequent removal from the show. 
  • Reports say that Union urged producers to report a racist joke made by Jay Leno to HR, tried to prevent a racially insensitive act from performing, was told her hairstyles were “too black,” and was vocal about other issues with the show and the culture it created.
  • The show opted to not continue with Union’s contract, ending her arc as a judge after just one season.

SAG-AFTRA Probe Launched

The Screen Actors Guild announced that it is investigating the controversies surrounding Gabrielle Union, NBC, and America’s Got Talent. 

Last week, it was revealed that Union was let go after appearing as a judge for one season. Reports from Variety and Vulture soon followed saying that Union was frequently vocal about addressing issues on set. She allegedly encouraged producers to report a joke many found racist, and tried to remove a performer whose act she found racially insensitive. According to Vulture, her complaints were among the reasons NBC’s America’s Got Talent decided to drop her.

“We take issues of workplace health and safety very seriously. We immediately reached out to Ms. Union’s representatives when these reports came to light,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement published in full by Deadline on Sunday. “While we have taken steps to investigate this matter, we have nothing to report now.”

Deadline’s report said that the investigations are still in their early stages. Their source, however, acknowledged that this investigation is “a high profile and probably high wire act.”

SAG-AFTRA’s announcement came just hours after NBC published a statement of their own regarding the matter. The network claimed to be working with Union’s team to address her concerns.

“We remain committed to ensuring a respectful workplace for all employees and take very seriously any questions about workplace culture,” their statement said. “We are working with Ms. Union through her representatives to hear more about her concerns, following which we will take whatever next steps may be appropriate.”

In what many saw as a response to NBC, Union shared a tweet that gave instructions on how to form a proper apology. 

Complaints in Variety Report

Union’s concerns painted the image of a toxic culture at America’s Got Talent. First unraveled in a report from Variety, it appeared that Union was seeking solutions to these issues to no response. 

One incident involved a joke made by comedian Jay Leno, who was a guest judge in one episode. Four people told Variety that while taping, he pointed to a photo of America’s Got Talent’s producer and judge Simon Cowell surrounded by his dogs. He said it looked like something “on the menu at a Korean restaurant.”

Some of the workers at America’s Got Talent found this joke to be offensive to Asian cultures, with the report also noting that one of the show’s few Asian staffers was present at the time.

Union allegedly encouraged producers and an NBC executive to report the joke to Human Resources, but nothing ever came of it. The joke did not make it into the episode. 

In another case, while taping auditions, one white contestant did rapid costume changes as he impersonated celebrities. While performing as Beyonce, his “hands appeared black.” Finding this racially insensitive, Union tried to convince producers to take him off the line-up, saying the live audience should not have to see this. They disagreed and sent him on stage, though he did not appear on television.

Variety’s report also said that Union and Julianne Hough, who was brought on to judge at the same time as Union and was also let go from the upcoming season, received constant notes about their appearances, hair, and makeup.

Union was reportedly told several times that her rotating hairstyles were “too black” for America’s Got Talent’s audience. One executive disputed this claim to Variety, saying notes on appearance were not given that frequently and only once were judges given notes on “hair continuity.”

Hough, who has a few projects with NBC in the near future, said she had a positive experience on America’s Got Talent and, “loved working with the cast, crew and producers.”

“I am happy to continue my working relationship with NBC. I’m looking forward to what the future holds,” she added.

Vulture Report Includes More Complaints

A few days after Variety’s report went out, a second report from Vulture was published, also laden with riffs between Union and producers. Union, who is allergic to cigarette smoke, complained to staff about Cowell’s habit of smoking inside the theatre, which had only separation curtains and no walls. Even though California law prevents an employer from allowing indoor smoking, producers insisted nothing could be done about Cowell’s smoking. He had reportedly been doing it for years despite complaints, including ones from NBC executives and a fire marshal. 

Producers were also said to have been irritated by Union asking contestants who were competing in drag for their preferred pronouns.

Vulture said a boiling point was reached when Union and producers were discussing contestants they wanted to see continue on the show, including a ten-year-old black rapper whom Union found exciting. The producers, however, told Union that the show needed to pick an act “that America can get behind.” They suggested a dance troupe from Texas that consisted of white performers. 

Vulture said that Union “Felt producers were implying that American audiences couldn’t get behind a 10-year-old black rapper, a viewpoint she felt was racist.”

After Union was working on the show for two months, Cowell allegedly sat her down and said that if she had any concerns, she should bring them up with him and not NBC executives, which Union thought was odd, and looked like he was trying to cover things up. Vulture’s report also included sources who said that Union frustrated Cowell and that she was let go from the show for being “difficult.”

NBC explained their reasoning for letting go of Union and Hough in Variety’s initial report. 

“‘America’s Got Talent’ has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show,” they said. “The judging and host line-up has been regularly refreshed over the years and that is one of the reasons for AGT’s enduring popularity. NBC and the producers take any issues on set seriously.”

Celebrities Stand With Union

Many celebrities spoke up to defend Union and call out NBC for not taking action.

“It’s unfortunate that @nbc the same network that protected disgusting men like Matt Lauer and punished women for speaking out or not putting up with it…has not changed their practices or culture,” Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo said. 

Popstar Ariana Grande shared more of Pompeo’s remarks and told NBC to “be better.”

Jameela Jamil, an actress on NBC’s The Good Place said Union should be brought back to America’s Got Talent.

See what others are saying: (Deadline) (Vulture) (Variety)

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