Thursday, October 29, 2009
Great article in today's WSJ titled "Lawyerese Goes Galactic as Contracts Try to Master the Universe." Read it. Here's a taste:
Decked out in sequined black and gold dresses, Anne Harrison and the other women in her Bulgarian folk-singing group were lined up to try out for NBC's "America's Got Talent" TV show when they noticed peculiar wording in the release papers they were asked to sign.
Any of their actions that day last February, the contract said, could be "edited, in all media, throughout the universe, in perpetuity."
She and the other singers, many of whom are librarians in the Washington, D.C., area, briefly contemplated whether thy should give away the rights to hurtling their images and voices across the galaxies forever. Then, like thousands of other contestants, they signed their names.
Ms. Harrison figured the lawyers for the show were trying to hammer home the point that contestants have no rights to their performances, "but I think they're just lazy and don't want to write a real contract," she says.
Lawyers for years have added language to some contracts that stretches beyond the Earth's atmosphere. But more and more people are encountering such everywhere-and-forever language as entertainment companies tap into amateur talent and try to anticipate every possible future stream of revenue.
Experts in contract drafting say lawyers are trying to ensure that with the proliferation of new outlets -- including mobile-phone screens, Twitter, online video sites and the like -- they cover all possible venues from which their clients can derive income, even those in outer space. FremantleMedia, one of the producers of NBC's "America's Got Talent," declined to comment on its contracts.
The article provides Prof. Eric Goldman's view of these intergalactic contracts clauses:
[Goldman] says the language could be "a stroke of brilliant foresight." Referring to geographical limits loosely can be dangerous, he says. For instance, "the United States is an ambiguous term...American Samoa, yes or no?"
"Throughout the world" would be one alternative, but that excludes possible future markets, he says. Some day, Mr. Goldman adds, people might ask, "What were they thinking? Why didn't they get the Mars rights?"
[Meredith R. Miller]