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A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury awarded $14.8 million to a talent agency that alleged that Walt Disney Pictures and Television underpaid commissions to the packaging agent of a hit television comedy series. Agency for the Performing Arts Inc. (APA) represented Matt Williams, the creator of “Home Improvement,” which aired on the ABC television network from 1991 to 1999. In 1991, defendant Walt Disney Pictures and Television agreed to pay a package commission to APA based upon the base license fee that Disney received from ABC, which Disney purchased in 1996. Starting the third season, the network paid Disney license fees beginning at $750,000 an episode and ending at $3 million an episode for the seventh and eighth seasons. APA claimed that Disney was only paying a commission on the original license fee of $410,000 an episode, plus a 4 percent per year growth rate. A dispute arose over the definition of the term “base license fee.” APA asserted that the term “base license fee” meant that it was entitled to a commission on all license fees that the network paid to Disney, excluding breakage and add-ons. According to the APA, the agreement with Disney called for the commission to rise if the license fees were renegotiated upward. Disney maintained that the term “base license fee” meant the initial or original license fee only and did not apply to the increased license fees. Attorneys for Disney reported that APA alleged claims against Disney and its parent corporation, The Walt Disney Co., that included challenging the license fees paid by ABC for “Home Improvement,” the calculation of APA’s commissions on the network license fees, and the calculation and payment of APA’s net profit participation in “Home Improvement.” In 1999, summary judgment was granted in favor of Disney and its parent. The Court of Appeal then upheld the dismissal of virtually all of APA’s contract and tort claims, reversing and remanding for trial only APA’s breach-of-contract claim regarding the calculation of its commissions on the license fees. On July 24, 2002, the jury returned an 11-1 verdict in favor of APA, awarding $14,832,909. Plaintiff’s attorneys: Larry R. Feldman and Joel N. Klevens of Fogel, Feldman, Ostrov, Ringler & Klevens in Santa Monica, Calif. Defense attorneys: Peter E. Moll of Howrey Simon Arnold & White in Washington, D.C., and Charles H. Samuel of Howrey Simon Arnold & White in Los Angeles. The case is Agency for the Performing Arts v. Walt Disney, No. BC 176 829.

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