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Kaplan Stahler, with about 10 agents, has become the first literary-focused agency to break ranks with the Association of Talent Agents and sign a so-called franchise agreement with the Writers Guild of America, three weeks after the WGA sidelined the ATA with a cease-and-desist letter and ended joint talks. The news came Monday in a guild member email and a statement from the agency.
That June 28 missive, in which the WGA demanded that the association and its members stop bargaining jointly or face antitrust liability, led Kaplan-Stahler to negotiate terms one-on-one with the guild, The Hollywood Reporter has learned, achieving modifications to the WGA’s previous Code of Conduct that was unveiled April 13 and marking a victory for the guild in its campaign to reshape agency business practices, particularly around packaging fees and affiliate production.
“Kaplan Stahler is pleased to announce that it has entered into a new Franchise Agreement with the Writers Guild of America with a term ending April 12, 2024,” the agency said. “The Franchise Agreement will allow Kaplan Stahler to return to representing its clients in a manner that both accommodates and supports the interests of the Guild and its members and preserves the Agency’s unfettered ability to fulfill its fiduciary duties to its clients. Critically, the Franchise Agreement that Kaplan Stahler has negotiated insures that nothing about its decades’ long, client-driven philosophy will change.”
Kaplan Stahler joins a non-ATA shop, Verve, in having reached individual accommodations with the WGA. The two are believed to be the only agencies with significant literary departments that have signed with the guild since termination April 12 of the industry-wide 1976 franchise agreement, known as the AMBA. Many small agencies without significant writer contingents have signed, including ATA-member Pantheon, but the none of the largest firms have, which has impeded WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners in their writer representation business for three months.
Now the question turns to mid-tier holdouts, such as Paradigm, APA, Gersh, Buchwald and Abrams, the last of which tried unsuccessfully several weeks ago to reach a deal with the guild based on the 1976 agreement.
“We’re focused on negotiating a fair deal with every agency,” said WGA West president David Goodman. “The key is to have a real negotiation conversation, as Kaplan Stahler had with us.”
The new deal prohibits packaging fees, with a one-year phase out, and affiliate production, which the agency doesn’t engage in anyway. Key modifications as compared with the WGA’s earlier language include a longer, five-year (rather than three-year) term, which provides greater business stability for the agency; softening of language that said that agencies derive their power by delegation from the guild, an untested WGA legal position on an unsettled area of law; a compromise on writer confidential information; and the addition of two new arbitrators to the list of those authorized to hear disputes.
The compromise on writer confidential information allows writers to block the agency from providing the guild with copies of contracts and invoices, but the agency will still have to notify the WGA as to each new deal entered into. That means that the guild will then know to demand copies of documentation from its members, which it says it needs to have in order to enforce the WGA collective bargaining agreement — and which also allows it to verify that members are paying the proper amount of dues owed.
“Through information-sharing, [this provision] makes the agency the Guild’s partner in enforcing late pay, free work and other contract violations,” said the WGA in its email to members. In addition, “the most-favored nation clause [in the Agreement] means any franchised agency may choose to adopt the terms of this agreement, in lieu of those it previously negotiated, if it so chooses.”
Said the email, “Our goal remains to move the negotiation process forward with all unsigned agencies.” Meanwhile, though, the WGA’s lawsuit against the four biggest agencies is pending in state court and the three largest agencies have antitrust suits pending against the guild in federal court, and even amongst the uncertainty, WME parent Endeavor has filed to go public. Over 7,000 writers have fired their agents on WGA orders since April, but at Kaplan Stahler, literary clients are now free to return.
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