May 5, 2010
Screen Writers Set to Get $30 Million
By Jean-Luc Renault
Daily Journal Staff Writer
LOS ANGELES – A five-year legal battle over tens of millions of dollars owed to film and television writers took a step closer to a resolution Monday.
Neville L. Johnson
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carl West indicated at a hearing that he likely would give final approval to a settlement agreement between the Writers Guild of America West and a class of about 17,000 screenwriters, despite objections from a foreign collection society and two writers.
If approved, the settlement would bring to an end a long-running class action over the guild’s inability to disburse about $30 million in foreign levies owed to screenwriters whose work has been distributed overseas. “This settlement will provide a substantial and real benefit for all class members,” West said.
The WGA, which has collected and distributed the levies since 1991, was supposed to send that money to union and non-union writers, but the guild claims that some of the funds started pooling after several recipients could not be located.
Writer William Richert, represented by lawyers from Johnson & Johnson and Kiesel, Boucher & Larson, filed the class action in 2005 over the guild’s inability to disburse the money, which comes from taxes on cable broadcasts and video rentals of movies and programs in several European and South American countries.
The settlement, which West granted preliminary approval to last fall, calls for the accounting and distribution of the levy funds the guild has collected the past two decades.
Objectors to the agreement included the Australian Writers’ Guild Authorship Collecting Society, which claimed the class definition is too broad and would prevent Australian writers from pursuing potential future legal action over undistributed levies against the WGA.
Also objecting to the settlement were two writers who claimed the agreement did not guarantee payment to class members and that it didn’t provide an accounting of who has been paid.
“My preliminary inclination is to override the objections and give the settlement final approval,” said West, who assured objectors that the court would oversee the ongoing administration of the agreement.
Lawyers for the guild, the class and the objectors agreed to meet outside of court to amend the existing agreement and to draft a final agreement order by next week for West to sign.
Writers Guild of America – www.wga.org