Attention client poachers: follow this case

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Attention client poachers: follow this case

Thu Dec 17, 2009 @ 02:16PM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Hollywood-sign-address We've always been a little surprised by the lack of litigation when top talent clients switch representatives.

It's no secret that Hollywood agents, lawyers and managers have become aggressive in poaching clients recently. Talking to the New Yorker a few years back, WME's Dave Wirtschafter described the way that agencies make come-ons to prospective clients:

"Most stars receive a number of calls each month from agencies who are eager to poach them away from their current representative. The poaching come-ons range from the bald ("That's all he got you?"; "We would never have let you appear in 'Troy'") to the subtle, long-term play. That goes something like this: 'I know you're happy with So-and-So, and I respect you too much to try to make you feel bad about how your career is going. But, in the future, just keep in mind that I'm a huge fan of your work, and that if you ever want access to more material than you're getting now, or just want to be able to exchange ideas with people like Tom and Steven, well, that's something we'd love to facilitate."

Poachers may wish to pay attention to an interesting lawsuit filed in Massachusetts state court this week. The case involves a heralded 21-year-old baseball prospect named Aroldis Chapman who defected from Cuba and has garnered interest from at least 15 major league teams. Last month, Chapman switched his representation, moving from Hendricks Sports Management to Athletes Premier International.

Hendricks is now suing on grounds of tortious interference and unjust enrichment, claiming an investment made of "substantial time and hundreds of thousands of dollars" on behalf of Chapman before API allegedly "made material false and disparaging statements" to Chapman causing him to switch agencies.

In Hollywood, most agents have a story like this to tell. We've seen lawsuits filed by agencies against agents who defect and bring clients with them, as well as a few rare lawsuits that make poaching an issue — the recent Black Eyed Peas case for example — but mostly, poaching instigates nothing more than rivalries and private grumbling.

We're not ready to say anything is about to change. On the strange scale of Hollywood ethics, poaching seems more acceptable than suing over poaching. Then again, if Hendricks wins this case, there certainly could be temptation by some in town to do what they do in baseball—settle scores.

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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