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Artist RightsDisneyPixar

The Artists Win! Disney, Pixar, and Lucasfilm To Pay $100 Million in Wage-Theft Lawsuit

They said it couldn’t be done, but it looks like the animation workers have prevailed over Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, and Lucasfilm, who have agreed to a settlement of $100 million in the ongoing class action lawsuit involving wage theft and antitrust claims. Two Pic MC (formerly Imagemovers Digital) will also be part of this settlement.

The three Walt Disney Company-owned studios on Tuesday filed with the U.S. District Court in northern California a motion for approval of the settlement agreement reached between the parties. If the settlement is approved by the court, it will bring to a close the class action lawsuit that exposed a scheme by feature animation studios to artificially keep labor costs low.

The studios were able to achieve this by conspiring to set salary limits and avoid hiring artists from other studios, thereby circumventing the free market for the skills and talents of their artists. (Cartoon Brew has covered the story for the last two-and-a-half years.)

Those involved in the scheme included some of the biggest names in the tech and entertainment industries, including computer animation pioneer and Disney and Pixar president Ed Catmull, Apple legend Steve Jobs, DreamWorks Animation founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Star Wars creator George Lucas.

The settlement amount is tacit recognition that the artists might otherwise have been able to earn many more millions of dollars for their talents and skills.

The suit originally grew out of a U.S. Justice Department investigation into similar illegal business practices in the high tech industry, involving such behemoths as Google, Apple, Intel, and Adobe. That suit resulted in a settlement of $415 million. It was the deposition Ed Catmull during that case, as well as the revelation of certain e-mails that alerted plaintiffs Robert Nitsch, David Wentworth, and Georgia Cano that they, too, may have been the victim of corporate malfeasance.

In September 2014, Nitsch filed his lawsuit and in December 2014, he consolidated his claims with those of Wentworth and Cano into a class action. After a dismissal of their suit due to statute of limitations issues, Nitsch, Wentworth, and Cano managed to revive their suit in August 2015 and reached settlements with Sony, Blue Sky, and DreamWorks Animation last year.

Now the suit likely concludes in a remarkable climax that increases the settlement fund by over 140%. The total amount of the various settlements now nears $170 million, including $50 million from Dreamworks Animation, $13 million from Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Imageworks, and $6 million from Fox’s Blue Sky Studios.

The money will be distributed from a court-approved settlement fund to animation artists who qualify for the class and who worked at the studios involved from approximately 2004-2010. The number of artists who qualify as class members will likely reach into the thousands.

Before approving the settlement. Judge Lucy Koh will consider the fairness of the settlement amount, the quality of the negotiations among the parties’ attorneys, and the effectiveness of the proposed notice of the settlement to class members. The studios here, referred to in the court filing as the “Disney Defendants,” propose to provide notice to class members by mail and/or e-mail, and promise to provide to the plaintiffs “the full name, social security number, all known email addresses, last known physical address, dates and location of employment, and all know compensation information…during the defined class period.”

Similar notice provisions proposed by Blue Sky and Sony Pictures Animation were previously approved by Judge Koh. Tuesday’s court filing notes that the plaintiffs have analyzed over 350,000 documents, and deposed close to thirty witnesses.

A final fairness hearing has been proposed for March 9, 2017. It will hopefully put an end to an ugly episode in animation history and serve as a reminder to animation studios that their workers need to be treated with respect and fairness.

  • Angry Young Animators

    We applauded you for finally doing the Right thing Catmull, you & all the other magnificent but unscrupulous sh*ts! People are often an unsatisfying mix of clever & stupid, good & bad, the decent & the devil. http://www.sharegif.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/tumblr_ml87q0tkrp1re3x32o1_.gif http://i.imgur.com/0mKXcg1.gif http://i.imgur.com/lNEg8.gif https://media.giphy.com/media/p7U1fHij5UxOM/giphy.gif

  • darliegoddess .

    Thanks for keeping us up on this Amid. The Brew has led the coverage, Great article Brian

  • Slim Cognito

    Congrats. It’s always satisfying when artists win!

  • Elsi Pote

    Good job to everyone that fought so hard to prevail.

    There is no such thing as a small enemy and everyone should me treated with espect and dignity.

    May this stick in the minds of those who think that can beat the system and get away with murder.

    Megalomany and sociopathy are deseases that are destroying this industry and the only medicine is an heavy and hefty bill in the mail.

    Enjoy your money Mr. Catmull, it will never buy you any respect or true friends.

  • They’ve made billions off of it though. Ultimately, this is a great deal for them.

  • judge dredds dirty undies

    Maybe this will serve as a wakeup call to the apathetic and defeatist attitudes of many artists. You should fight back, its possible to win.

  • Angry Young Animators
  • I’m curious about what this means going forward with the rights of artists? Will new hires be able to ask for better wages? And as for the artists involved, will they be fired for suing their companies if their contract covers such an event?

    I’m not sure if the settlements are enough to teach those companies a lesson but I hope I’m wrong (feel free to clarify). Anyway, big congrats to all the artists!

  • Barret Wallace

    “$50 million from Dreamworks Animation, $13 million from Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Imageworks, and $6 million from Fox’s Blue Sky Studios.”

    That is very little…
    just think about it, they spend 100s of millions in movies and they have been doing this for over a decade already.

    Sony alone had a budget of $73 million for angry birds (Box office
    $349.8 million) by how much they cut down their budget spent by doing this? for this movie alone I bet they have saved more than 13 million.

    and then what? every one of their artists who worked for sony in over a decade will get a part of the 13 million? Most people will be getting less than a thousand dollars… but they lost a lot more than that, and this without even talking about all the unpaid overtime.

    For then its totally worth to continue doing this, they are making billions, and just have to share a few million dollars bill later on.

    • BongoBongoLA

      It’ll be substantially more than that. All class members, regardless of where they worked, are entitled to a share of the entire settlement fund (around $170m)

      There are more details on the website, but if you worked and any of those studios for the duration of the period, you should see a 5-figure settlement check.

  • Sharkey Shyster

    Yeah after us lawyers get our cut there may be a couple of bucks left over for the artists.

  • Apathetic

    This isn’t a win, at best it’s nothing more than a pyrrhic victory. This is the lawsuit going away before a finding could be made by a judge- a finding that, had it gone in the artists favor, would have paid out substantially more, and properly chastened the studios to boot- which I thought was the whole point. As to whether it will happen again? We should certainly expect it, or something like it. Maybe the studios will go with a freelance model, because it is working out nicely for them in places like Vancouver- a place where you often don’t get paid for overtime, have no benefits to speak of, and if you object to the conditions, you’re fired and blacklisted. “But they’ll never get away with it”, I hear you scream “We have a Union”. Well, as earth-shatteringly powerful as the truly marvelous as Local 839 is, what with the new nationwide Right To Work legislation being discussed in Washington, (the purpose of which is to cripple the unions), I would say that the path is clearing for them to implement such a system. I’d say we can expect far more of this, not less.

  • Amid, do you have any idea why there aren’t much artists riling up outrage for this illegal act? I hear little to no comments from Disney artists or even outside Disney talking about this issue. :(

    • AmidAmidi

      That’s a question you’d have to ask the artists themselves because I can’t speak for them. The only thing I can say is that there have been MANY industry artists who have privately expressed their gratitude to both myself and the Brew’s legal correspondent, Brian, for covering this story from beginning to end. So we are fully aware that people in the industry are paying attention and care about this issue, even if they are not expressing their thoughts publicly.

      • Is it the fear for getting blacklisted be reason those artists stay silent about this?

        • AmidAmidi

          I can’t speak for the artists. You have to ask them.