Legal Issues to Consider Before Signing with an Agent or Manager

Talent agents have seen their fair share of courtrooms. Everyone from Lady Gaga to Kate Walsh has brought lawsuits against talent agents and managers. However, many lawsuits can easily be avoided if you conduct your due diligence before signing on the dotted line.

Prior to signing an agency contract, obtain as much information as possible on your prospective agent. For starters, make sure your agent is properly licensed. Actual agents and agencies require extensive licensing which varies from state to state. Both New York and California, the states with the largest concentrations in the entertainment industries, have enacted legislation to control agents. For instance, California Labor Code §1700 and §1701 is among the most restrictive in the country. Under the Code, every agent must undergo a strenuous process to obtain a license including providing fingerprints, affidavits; and a bond in the amount of $10,000 to cover charges of fraudulent or inappropriate acts.

Working with an unlicensed agent is dangerous for an actor’s career. Persons acting as unlicensed talent agents stand the risk of having their contracts declared null and void. The Association of Talent Agencies (ATA) has a list of agency licensing requirements by state. If you question your prospective agency’s licensing, contact the ATA through their website at: www.agentassociation.org.

Once you have confirmed the credentials of your prospective agent, begin to carefully read through your contract. If there are any clauses or stipulations you do not understand, seek clarification from a legal professional. For those who cannot afford to hire an attorney, utilize volunteer organizations like New York Volunteer Lawyer’s for the Arts (www.vlany.org) or California Lawyers for the Arts (www.calawyersorthearts.com).

While each clause in an Agency contract is important, pay particular attention to the actual commission percentage your agent will take from your work. Perhaps one of the most heavily disputed clauses in these contracts pertains to commissions. The industry standard percentage is anywhere between 10% to 15%. Never sign a contract with a commission percentage higher than 15%. And it goes without saying, Never pay agents upfront fees. It is also worth noting that even after you terminate your contract, agents are entitled to receive commissions on any contracts, extensions, options or renewals of work retained from the Agent during the term of your agreement.

Jaia Thomas is a graduate of Colgate University (BA) and The George Washington University Law School (JD). She also holds a Certificate in Television, Film and New Media Production from University of California, Los Angeles. She is an active member of the American Bar Association and New York Bar Association. Her law practice, The Law Office of Jaia Thomas, specializes in assisting sports and entertainment professionals. For more information: www.jathomaslaw.com.

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