Judge rejects dismiss decision on conspiracy case involving animation and visual effects studios. I know very well that this isn’t really the kind of movie news you’d normally find around here, considering that it doesn’t talk about a specific movie that is in the works or one that has recently been released, but this is still something that I believe anyone who is interested in the film industry should know, since this could be the biggest scandal in animation. Recently, Judge Lucy Koh rejected the demand of the defendants to dismiss the case. The judge found that the plaintiffs added enough detail to indicate that this conspiracy had been concealed by the heads of the studios.
For those who haven’t heard of this lawsuit, three animators and visual effects artists, Robert A. Nitsch Jr., Georgia Cano and David Wentworth, sued the big-name studios for secretly joining together to not only lower the wages of their employees, but also to make a gentleman’s agreement to not poach each other’s workers to prevent better work opportunities.
The defendants and the companies that are being accused of doing this include:
- Walt Disney Animation Studios
- Pixar Animation Studios
- Industrial Lights and Magic
- Imagemovers Digital
- DreamWorks Animation
- Digital Domain
- Sony Pictures Imageworks
- Sony Pictures Animation
- Blue Sky Studios
- And other small animation studios
The plaintiffs say that it all began back in the 80s with George Lucas, Apple’s Steve Jobs, and Pixar president Ed Catmull who “subsequently reached an agreement to restrain their competition for the skilled labor that worked for the two companies.” As time passed, some companies like DreamWorks supposedly came into the agreement deliberately, while others came in by accident.
In April 2015, the judge dismissed the case, in compliance with Federal antitrust law and California law, because the plaintiffs did not present enough evidence that this conspiracy had actually been happening. After that ruling, it seemed that the case was over…until now.
Judge Koh wrote, “Here, the Court finds that Plaintiffs’ allegations of pretextual statements regarding compensation, in combination with Plaintiffs’ allegations that Defendants actively concealed and ensured the secrecy of the conspiracy, are sufficient to allege ‘affirmative acts”. Judge Koh added that there will be no exceptions in the case, including Sony, who was the most determined to prove that they had nothing to do with this conspiracy. “However, as Plaintiffs note, that Sony may have violated the alleged agreement does not disprove Sony’s involvement in the conspiracy as a matter of law…Indeed, if Sony were not part of the conspiracy to begin with, there would be no need for Pixar to tell Sony to “knock it off (again!)”.
Personally, I’ve always felt that, if the plaintiffs won this case, that it might change the business model of how animated features were made.
You can read the full opinion of the plaintiff here:
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