WME Fires Back at ‘La La Land’ Lawsuit, Says Composer Demanded ‘Unparalleled’ Profits
In its first response to the lawsuit, the agency alleged that Justin Hurwitz earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from live "La La Land" concerts.
William Morris Endeavor is asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed last month by the Oscar-winning composer of La La Land, scoffing at the notion that the talent agency duped a former client who is “meticulous and Harvard-educated.”
Justin Hurwitz sued last month, accusing WME of “cynically and systemically” defrauding him out of profits for live concerts of the movie’s Oscar-winning score. He claimed his former agency had secret conflicts of interest with the company that produced the concerts, among other wrongdoing.
But in its first formal response to the lawsuit on Tuesday (Feb. 22), WME said Hurwitz was hardly an unsuspecting victim.
“From the outset, Hurwitz was fully aware of the initial affiliation between his talent agency and the production of the La La Land in Concert series,” wrote the agency’s attorneys from the law firm Greenberg Traurig. “The meticulous and Harvard-educated Hurwitz understood and agreed to this arrangement, later admitting in writing that he was ‘fine with’ Endeavor Content making more money than him under the circumstances.”
The agency said Hurwitz had willingly agreed to a deal in which he “earned hundreds of thousands of dollars” in fixed fees and income, while others paid upfront costs and did all the heavy lifting of producing a concert series.
“Years later, despite paying no costs and taking no risk, Hurwitz demanded more money, insisting on profit participation in the production unparalleled in the industry,” WME wrote. Even after he was given more money, the agency said it was still “not enough for Hurwitz,” who resorted to “this unfounded lawsuit.”
In a statement to Billboard, Hurwitz’s attorney Bryan Freedman responded to WME’s filing by calling it “a clear admission of wrongdoing.”
“WME had a fiduciary duty to build Justin’s career and create more opportunity for him; instead, they cynically engaged in self-dealing and made ten times more compensation off of their client’s work than he did,” Freedman said. “Now they’re attempting to victim blame. But the facts are clear. And we’re excited for trial.”
Tuesday’s response came six weeks after Hurwitz filed his lawsuit, which accused WME of “abusing” its relationship with him to secure control of the La La Land concerts. He says the agency essentially tricked him into the arrangement, which saw him “accept a minimal piece of the pie” of revenue.
Hurwitz’s lawsuit echoes a recent legal battle waged by the Writers Guild of America against WME and other agencies. In that case, the union claimed that the agencies had created a conflict of interest by both representing talent and producing content themselves. That dispute ended last year with a settlement in which the agencies agreed to sharply limit their ownership in production companies.
In technical terms, Hurwitz is accusing WME of breach of its fiduciary duty to him, as well as breach of contract and breach of the so-called implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing – the basic obligation to act fairly in any deal. The lawsuit also accuses WME of negligence, negligent misrepresentation and fraud. Tuesday’s filing was an “answer,” which is typically the first response from a defendant in civil litigation.
UPDATE: This story was updated on Feb. 25 at 2:50 pm EST with a statement from Hurwitz’s lawyer.