The WGA is ramping up its rhetoric against the big talent agencies’ current business model, calling it “corrupt” and a “mockery” of agents’ fiduciary duties to writers. In a “Statement of Purpose: Why Agencies Must Change,” the WGA East and WGA West said today their demands for change are not revolutionary nor intended to wreck the industry.
The WGA East and West are threatening to order their members to fire their agents en masse on April 6 if they refuse to sign the guild’s proposed new Code of Conduct banning packaging and agency involvement in production deals with related entities. The guilds acknowledge that they “have taken too long to demand that these practices end” but said that “the persistence of a corrupt system does not make it right.”
“Our agents work for us,” the guilds said in identical postings on their websites. “Every dollar they make must be generated as a percentage of the money we make. That is what it means to be our representatives and our fiduciaries. Agency-based studios and packaging fees make a mockery of that and are in violation of the agencies’ ethical and legal obligations to writers.”
“Putting things right does not blow up the business,” their statement said. “We do not owe our agents their wealth; they owe us their loyalty. That is what we pay for. In a complex, changing, yet immensely profitable time in our industry, writers need true allies, not deeply conflicted ones. It is for this idea – simple, old-fashioned and un-revolutionary – that we stand – and for which we come together as a guild again today.”
The guilds also said that they want to “realign agency incentives so they are consistent with, rather than competing with, the interests of writer clients. Agents are fiduciaries, required by law to act in the interest of their client and are bound by legal and ethical codes establishing a responsibility for a representative to remain free of any conflict of interest that would interfere with the single-minded, unmitigated, pursuit of the client’s interest. We need a revised agency agreement to establish such standards in our industry.”
WGA leaders said this week that their stalled negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents have reached an “impasse,” and will ask their members to approve a new Code of Conduct on March 25. If ratified, writers could be asked to walk away from any agents who don’t sign it on April 6, when the WGA’s current franchise agreement with the ATA expires.