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Monday, February 23, 2015

Contract Modifications – Differing Standards for Pop Stars?

2012 American Idol winner Phillip Phillips has lodged a “bombshell petition” with the California Labor Commissioner seeking to void contracts that Phillips now finds manipulative, oppressive, and “fatally conflicted.”  

Before winning season 11 of “American Idol,” Phillips signed a series of contracts with show producer “19 Entertainment” governing such issues as his management, recording and merchandising activities.  These contracts are allegedly very favorable to 19 Entertainment, for example allowing the company as much as a 40% share of any moneys made from endorsements, withholding information from Phillips about aspects of his contractual performance such as the name of his album before it was announced publicly, and  requiring Phillips to (once) perform a live show once without compensation.  19 Entertainment has also lined up such gigs for Phillips as performing at a World Series Game, appearing on “Ellen,” the “Today Show,” and “The View.”

It is apparently not unusual for those on successful TV reality shows to renegotiate deals at some point once their career gets underway.  Phillips claims that he too frequently requested this, but that 19 Entertainment turned his requests down.  Can he really expect them to agree to post-hoc contract modifications?

Very arguably not.  Under the notion of a pre-existing legal duty, a party simply cannot expect that the other party to a contract should have to or, much less, should be willing to change the contractually expected exchange of performances.  This seems to be especially so in relation to TV reality shows where the entire risk/benefit analysis to the producer is that the “stars” may or may not hit it big.  For hopeful stars, the same considerations apply: their contracts may lead them to fame and fortune… or not.  That’s the whole idea behind these types of contracts.  Of course, if industry practice is to change the contracts along the way and if both parties are willing to do so, they are free to do so.  Otherwise, the standards for contractual modifications are probably the same for entertainment stars as for “regular” contractual parties. 

Another issue in this case is whether an “agent” is a company or a physical person.  Under the California Talent Agencies Act (“TAA”), only licensed “talent agents” can procure employment for clients.   Phillips is attempting to apply the TAA to entertainment companies like 19 Entertainment.  If Phillips is successful, the ramifications may be significant for the entertainment industry in which companies very often negotiate deals with performers without taking the TAA into account.  In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the United States Supreme Court famously gave personal rights to corporations, albeit only in the election context.   Time will tell how California looks at the issue of corporate personhood and responsibilities in the entertainment context.

Adjudications under the controversial TAA are notoriously slow and could leave contractual parites in “limbo” for a very long time.  Time and patience is not what Hollywood parties are known to have a lot of, so stay tuned for the outcome of this dispute.

February 23, 2015 in Celebrity Contracts, Current Affairs, In the News, Legislation, Television, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mark Zuckerberg in a Modern Mitchill v. Lath?

Mcherry3Friend of the blog, Miriam Cherry (pictured) is quoted in this story about a spat between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and a former neighbor.  The story seems much creepier than the classic icehouse case, Mitchill v. Lath.   Here, plaintiff Mircea Voskerician claims he offered to sell his house to Zuckerberg after pointing out to Zuckerberg that Voskerician was planning to build a large house that overlooked Zuckerberg's master bedroom.  Voskerician alleges that he sold the property to Zuckerberg at a significant discount in return for an oral promise that Zuckerberg would introduce Voskerician, a real estate developer, to Zuckerberg's Silicon Valley contacts.  

Voskerician alleges that Zuckerberg has not honored his end of the deal.  Zuckerberg seems to be denying there was any such deal.  So the interesting contracts question is whether the parol evidence rule will permit introduction of Voskerician's evidence of the oral promise.  Noting that California is quite permissive in the admission of parol evidence, Professor Cherry suggests that Voskerician will be permitted to introduce the evidence.  

If the newspaper account cited above is accurate, it is hard to imagine how Zuckerberg's introduction would have helped Mr. Voskerician.  It might run something like this: "Hey there, Captain of Virtual Industry!  Let me introduce you to this man, here, who was almost my backyard neighbor.  He threatened to do a Rear Window number on me unless I bought him out.  Would you like to do some business with him?" 

February 11, 2015 in Celebrity Contracts, Famous Cases, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Weekly News Roundup

Sly Stone
Sly Stone by Chris Hakkens

According to Randall Roberts in the L.A. Times, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury ruled for the Sylvester Stewart (aka funk legend Sly Stone, at left) in his action against his ex-manager Gerald Goldstein, attorney Glenn Stone and Even St. Productions Ltd.  It's the usual story.  Sly Stone suffered from drug addiction and ran into hard times when defendants proposed a commercial association in 1989.  Stone successfully alleged unjust enrichment and breach of contract, claiming that he never saw the money that the enterprise earned through his music.  A jury awarded Stone $5 million.  Even St. Productions filed for bankruptcy in 2013, and the other defendants say that they plan to appeal.  

According to Fox Connecticut, a fraternity member who was suspended from Quinnipiac University in a hazing incident is suing the university and four of its officers for breach of contract.  He alleges that his tuition payment entailed a contractual commitment and that the university did not live up to its end of the bargain because he was not fairly treated.  He has other claims against the university sounding in Connecticut's Unfair Trade Practices Statute and in the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing.

 And . . . at long last, the Steven Salaita saga has made its way into a complaint.  We blogged about this story before here and here and here.  His 39-page complaint alleges statutory violations under 42 USC §§ 1983 and 1985, as well as promissory estoppel, breach of contract, tortious interference, and spoilation of evidence.

February 9, 2015 in Celebrity Contracts, Current Affairs, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Weekly News Roundup

Ghana-flag-2We start this week with international news:  According to a report from Ghanaweb, Ghana is suing Nigeria for breach of a contract to supply natural gas.  Under the West African Pipeline Project, Nigeria is to supply Ghana, Togo and Benin with gas, but it has supplied only about 40% of the gas contracted for.  While the report is a bit vague, it seems that the agreement at issue has a $20 million liquidated damages clause, which Ghana thinks is far too low and does not provide an adequate incentive for Nigeria to perform.  

In music industry news, the Daily Record informs us that songwriter Wendy Starland won a $7.3 million jury verdict against producer Rob Fusari, who had entered into a settlement with Lady Gaga in 2010.  Fusari had claimed entitlement to $30.5 million for helping to launch Lady Gaga's career and contributing to her break-out hit album (are they still called that?).  We reported about that suit here.  Lady Gaga testified at the trial, at which Starland claimed that she and Fusari had a deal for splitting proceeds from Lady Gaga's career. 

And yet another non-disparagement case: this one in the context of realtors.  San Diego's ABC's affiliate, 10news.com reports that a realtor sought to arbitrate its breach of contract claim against a homeowner who posted a negative review on Yelp.  The homeowner claims that the realtor demanded $8000 and the removal of the Yelp review in order to settle the claim.  As Nancy Kim has pointed out, California has a law that will go into effect Jan. 1, 2015, such non-disparagement clauses will be unenforceable.  There can also be fines of up to $10,000 for contractual provisions that violate the new law.  

December 1, 2014 in Celebrity Contracts, In the News, Music | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Feast: Meredith Miller Top Ten List

MeredithThis is a rather unconventional list.  I have just gone back into our archives and picked out one my favorite Meredith posts from each of the ten years since she started blogging here.  It's amazing how well I remember each of these posts!

Meredith Vintage 2014: John Oliver and Sarah Silverman Tackle Payday Loans

Meredith Vintage 2013: Breaking: Bieber Requires NDA of Guests in His Home

Meredith Vintage 2012: Markets on the Mekong

Meredith Vintage 2011: Don't Buy This: 'Tis the Cyber Season of Reverse Psychology

Meredith Vintage 2010: A Hairy Breach of Contract Suit against Paris Hilton 

Meredith Vintage 2009: Can Mad Men Bring Sexy Back to Contracts?

Meredeith Vintage 2008: Brown on Halloween, Promises & Signed Documents

Meredith Vintage 2007: Law Prof Takes on Cell Phone Company

Meredith Vintage 2006: British Court Must Watch Jerry Springer Show

Meredith Vintage 2005: The Commonality of Computers, French Fries and Arbitration

It was hard to make these choices.  Lots of competition in the Meredith archives!

 

November 27, 2014 in About this Blog, Celebrity Contracts, Television, Travel | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 22, 2014

LA Dentist Gets $5000 for $1605 Default Judgment against Kim Kardashian

This story from the WSJ Law Blog falls right into the ContractsProf Blog sweet spot: 

In October 2002, Los Angeles dentist Dr. Craig D. Gordon won a $1,605.73 default judgment against a 22-year-old former patient who was allegedly fitted with porcelain fillings to replace silver ones but never paid the bill.

The patient was Kim Kardashian, and nearly a dozen years later, Dr. Gordon has finally gotten his money back – with interest and an extra $1,500 thrown in. The twist is the money didn’t come from the now (in)famous Ms. Kardashian but from a California attorney who bought the uncollected judgment for $5,000 in an online auction that ended Thursday.

JudgmentMarketplace.com, a three-year-old site that gives creditors a forum for hawking uncollected debts, said the transaction marked the first time in the company’s history that the selling price for a listed judgment exceeded the total value of the principal and interest.

“Judgments usually sell for only pennies on the dollar,” said the site’s founder, Shawn Porat, a Manhattan resident.

He said the Kardashian judgment may have commanded a premium because of its novelty value. In other words, for $5,000, you can tell people at a cocktail party that a Kardashian is indebted to you.

Ms. Kardashian’s attorney, Todd Wilson, told Law Blog that she “never sought or received treatment by Dr. Gordon of any kind.”

The buyer, said Mr. Porat, could also expect the judgment to increase in value as more interest accrues. Under California civil procedure code, judgments automatically expire after 10 years, but before time runs out, a creditor may file a request for a 10-year renewal with the original court. And there’s no limit to how many times you can extend it.

“Although I wish she had just paid her bill like most of my clients do, I’m really glad to finally have closure on this incident,” Dr. Gordon said in a statement.

Interested in purchasing some celebrity debt of your own?  WSJ Law Blog reports:

JudgmentMarketplace.com is also listing a $9 million wrongful death judgment against O.J. Simpson on behalf of Ronald Goldman’s mother, who is asking for at least $1 million. The 17-year-old judgment has accumulated more than $15 million in interest, according to the site.

August 22, 2014 in Celebrity Contracts, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tour Riders [File this in: Rock 'n' Roll]

DownloadI love concert tour riders -- those sometimes lengthy contract terms that reveal all of a band's idiosyncratic  backstage requests.  The most famous rider term is, of course, Van Halen's requirement of no brown M&Ms.  And we've  blogged about the explanation for this peculiar request more than once: here and here

WNYC's John Schaefer hosted an extended discussion of tour riders on Soundcheck.  My favorite is Iggy Pop's request: "One monitor man who speaks English and is not afraid of death."  

The Brooklyn band Parquet Courts asked for:

  • 1 bottle of communion grade red wine
  • 1 bottle of white wine that would impress your average non-wine-drinking American
  • 1 bottle of lower-middle shelf whiskey – cheap but still implies rugged masculinity
  • Mixers for aforementioned mid-level whiskey, of slightly higher quality than the whiskey
  • A quantity of “herbal mood enhancer”
  • 1 copy of newspaper with the most interesting headline/front page picture (comic section must feature Curtis)

You can listen to the show here:

August 13, 2014 in Celebrity Contracts, In the News, Music | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 10, 2014

NewYork City Ballet Dancers Agree to New Contract

As the New York Times reports here, dancers with the New York City Ballet (NYCB)  have been operating without a contract since the summer of 2012.  No details of the agreement are available, beyond the fact that the dancers are guaranteed pay for 38 weeks of work now, up from 37.  

A bit of quick internet research suggests that a member of the NYCB corps de ballet makes $1500 a week.  Let's assume the new contract is more generous and round up to $2000/week.  If they get paid for 38 weeks of work, that comes out to $76,000/year, which is a good salary in New York City, so long as you can share a studio apartment in an outer borrough with two or more other members of of the corps (or you can marry and investment banker).  There was a bit of controversy about five years ago when tax returns for Peter Martins, the NYCB's Ballet Master-in-Chief, surfaced and revealed that he made about $700,000.  Some of that money comes from royalties he earns on his choreographies.  In any case, it seems that was considered a lot of money for a dancer.

To put that in some perspective, the median salary for an NBA player is $1.75 milion, if we include players on short-term contracts.  The top salary exceeds $30 million, and the lowest salary, as of the 2011-12 season according to nba.com, was just under $500,000 for a rookie.

And now, here is the New York City Ballet performing an excerpt from George Balanchine's Agon

 

 

March 10, 2014 in Celebrity Contracts, Commentary, Labor Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Motley Crue "Death Pact"

Motley Crue, the rock band with the best VHI Behind the Music episode, has agreed to disband after one final tour.  According to CNN

All four members of Motley Crue signed an agreement Tuesday that will permanently dissolve the legendary rock group after a final tour.

Vince Neil, Mick Mars, Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee appeared in a Hollywood hotel Tuesday for a signing ceremony for a "cessation of touring agreement," which their lawyer said would bring a peaceful end to the group.

"Other bands have split up over rancor or the inability of people to get along, but this is mutual among all four original members and a peaceful decision to move on to other endeavors and to confirm it with a binding agreement," attorney Doug Mark said.

Motley Crue has sold more than 80 million albums since hitting the road in 1981, but drummer Tommy Lee said, "Everything must come to an end."

"We always had a vision of going out with a big f**king bang and not playing county fairs and clubs with one or two original band members," said Lee, who is the youngest member at 51. "Our job here is done."

Guitarist Mick Mars, the oldest band member at 62, said the group's 33 years have had "more drama than 'General Hospital.'"

Vocalist Vince Neil, 52, said he'll miss the group, but it's not an end to his rock career. "I feel there are a lot of great opportunities and exciting projects after Motley."

The first leg of "The Final Tour" starts in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on July 2.

The termination agreement becomes effective at the end of 2015, after a global tour that will include Alice Cooper.

"Motley Crue and Alice Cooper -- A match made in Armageddon?" said Cooper.

I'd love to see a copy of the contract (...wherefore Motley Crue hereby f***g agrees fortwith to cease any and all  rock band activities of any kind...).   In the main, it sounds like a hard one to breach: I promise not to show up for band stuff anymore! 

January 29, 2014 in Celebrity Contracts, In the News, Teaching | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 20, 2013

$3.6 Million Seized from Starlin Castro's Bank Accounts for Breach of Contract

CastroChicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro (pictured) has reportedly had $3.6 million seized from his bank accounts in connection with an alleged breach of contract as reported here in the Chicago Tribune.  The seizure relates (although how is unclear) to an alleged contract that Castro's father entered into when Castro was 15 years old with a baseball training school in the Dominican Republic.  The alleged contract provided that the school was entitled to three percent of Castro's earnings as a professional ball player. 

According to the Tribune, the money has already been seized from several banks, but the Tribune also reports that Castro's former coach at the school is "planning" to sue Castro.  It is not clear why the school is able to seize funds based on a planned suit, but perhaps the coach is contemplating a separate law suit from that already initiated by the school.  Still, since the Tribune suggests that Castro will counterclaim and claims that the suit is baseless, it is hard to understand how the seizure could have taken place prior to adjudication on the merits.   Castro stole only nine bases last year (and was caught stealing six times).  He is not a flight risk.  

It is also not clear where the $3.6 million figure comes from.  The Tribune reports that Castro signed a $60 million deal with the Cubs in 2012.  So, he is due a bit under $7 million/year, which he has been paid for one year.  Even if the school is due to be paid for the full $60 million, three percent of $60 million is $1.8 million, but why would the school be entitled to be paid before Castro has been paid?

And just for those of you who have any interest in my occasional gripes about absurd sports salaries.  Castro was ranked 22nd among shortstops last year.  I'm not certain but I suspect that those rankings are based exclusively on offensive numbers, which is ridiculous when it comes to shortstops, who are key defensive players.  Castro's fielding percentage was 26th last year out of 28 shortstops who played more than 100 games.  While Castro's offensive numbers were way off last year, his defensive numbers were a bit better than prior years.  No shortstops near Castro in the rankings made even half of what he made.  But he is guaranteed nearly $7 million a year even if his defense never picks up, he hits a punchless .250 and is as big a threat to get picked off as he is to steal a base.  Baseball salaries are no more rational than CEO salaries and both are in need of reform.

[JT]

December 20, 2013 in Celebrity Contracts, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Eric Goldman on Getting from "Dope" to "Nope"

GoldmanOn Monday, the Distrct Court for the  Southern of New York issued its opinion in  Beastie Boys v. Monster Energy Company, 12 Civ. 6065 (PAE) (S.D.N.Y. November 4, 2013).  The issue in the case was whether DJ Z-Trip had authorized Monster Energy to use a remix and video Z-Trip (Mr. Z-Trip?) had made of Beastie Boys songs.   Z-Trip wrote to Monster Energy saying, "Dope!" in the context of series of exchanges with Monster Energy over use of of the remix, and Monster Energy construed that word as consent.

Santa Clara Law Professor Eric Goldman (pictured) has a thorough anlysis here.

[JT]

November 6, 2013 in Celebrity Contracts, Contract Profs, In the News, Music, Recent Cases, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Grateful Dead Bassist Grateful for Steady Work at Age 73

Phil LeshContracts law is about facilitating mutually beneficial transactions.  Where would we be in a world without contracts lawyers?

A case in point is this story in the New York Times: Long-time Grateful Dead bassist, Phil Lesh (pictured), has entered into a contract with Peter Shapiro, a promotor, venue owner and life-long Deadhead to make it possible for Lesh to do 45 concerts a year without having to drive around the country in a tour bus.

More than half of the concerts will be at two venues owned by Mr. Shapiro, the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York (just north of Manhattan), and the Brooklyn Bowl, a combination rock club/bowling alley in Williamsburg.  The Capitol is a renovated, 2000-seat 1920s movie palace and is said to be an ideal space for Mr. Lesh's music.

The deal is sweet on both sides, from the way it is described in the Times.  Mr. Shapiro gets all sort of merchandizing rights and the rights to recordings of the concerts -- more non-bootleg bootlegs in the Grateful Dead tradition -- while Lesh gets to perform as much as he wants, where he wants, with reduced travel and hassle.  This is clearly beneficial to both parties and to third-party beneficiaries (aka Deadheads) who will get to see a lot of Phil Lesh in the New York area and can take advantage of special promos like "Bowling with Phil."

What a long strange trip it's been!

[JT]

November 5, 2013 in Celebrity Contracts, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Quincy Jones Sues Michael Jackson Estate and Sony for Breach of Contract

Quincy JonesAs reported here by Reuters, 27-time Grammy-winning producer Quincy Jones (pictured) is suing the estate of Micahel Jackson and Sony Music Entertainment (Sony) for $20 million for breach of two contracts relating to music that Mr. Jones produced on some of Michael Jackson's most successful albums.  Mr. Jones alleges that the music was re-mixed for used in a Michael Jackson concert movie, "This Is It," and in to Cirque du Soleil shows that use Mr. Jackson's music.  Mr. Jones claims that he is being denied proceeds in violation of his agreements with Sony and Mr. Jackson based on secret agreements between Sony and the administrators of Mr. Jackson's estate.

[JT]

October 28, 2013 in Celebrity Contracts, In the News, Recent Cases | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Disco Star Sues Contractor for Allegedly Faulty Work

"I Will Survive" singer Gloria Gaynor has filed breach of contract and warranty claims against a contractor.  According to MyCentralJersey.com:

Gaynor has filed suit in state Superior Court in Somerville against a Piscataway contractor who replaced a second-floor concrete deck at her home that she says later caused leaks into the house and has to be replaced at a cost of $120,000.

According to the lawsuit filed earlier this month, Gaynor contracted with Diaz Landscape Design and Tree Service of Piscataway in November 2007 to remove an existing second-floor concrete deck and replace it with a new deck at a cost of $38,060.

After the new deck was installed, the lawsuit alleges, water began to leak into Gaynor’s home because of “faulty construction.”

There was also water ponding on the deck, water damage to wood sills and supports and the formation of mold, according to the suit.

Gaynor told the contractor about the problems and asked that the conditions be corrected. The contractor attempted to fix the problems, but the attempts failed and the problems persisted, causing more damage to the property, according to the lawsuit.

Gaynor then had another contractor examine the work performed by Diaz.

The new contractor determined that the work done by Diaz was “so faulty and defective” that the only appropriate remedy is removing the deck and constructing a new one at a cost of $120,000, the suit says.

Besides breach of contract and breach of warranty, Gaynor’s suit also charges Diaz with consumer fraud by not being registered in New Jersey as a home improvement contract and failing to obtain the required building permits, resulting in the work not being inspected.

Is Gaynor entitled to the cost of replacement of the deck?  Time for a music break:

 

[Meredith R. Miller]

October 23, 2013 in Celebrity Contracts, In the News, Music, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

There Is Hope: Battle Creek

 

Vince_Gilligan_by_Gage_Skidmore_2
Vince Gilligan by Gage Skidmore
It's not as if I thought the world was going to end on Sunday, when AMC shows the absolutely, positively last episode of Breaking Bad, I just thought I would never again have anything to which I could look foward.  I did just turn 50, so there is AARP membership and a colonoscopy, but I thought there would be nothing in my future that I would anticipate enjoying.  

 

But then came this in today's New York Times.  Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad just sigend an agreement for a new show on CBS.  The timing of the announcement speaks well of both Mr. Gilligan and CBS, capitalizing on the current fan feeding frenzy surrounding the end of the series.  But the fact that CBS is belatedly pouncing on a Gilligan script originally offered to CBS ten years ago speaks less well of that party to the deal.  

Mr. Gilligan has an exclusive deal with Sony Pictures Television, which negotiated for him an unsual deal in which CBS agreed up front to air 13 episodes of Mr. Gilligan's series, Battle Creek.  There's a lot of money involved, but who cares?  If Battle Creek is anything like Breaking Bad, I will forgive CBS for not airing a single show that I have wanted to watch in the last 25 years.

Or am I forgetting something?  Has CBS had any good comedies or dramas in prime time?

[JT]

September 26, 2013 in Celebrity Contracts, Commentary, In the News, Teaching, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Words of Wisdom from a "Macho Man"

Village People

The NYT reported that Victor Willis, who you may know as the policeman/naval officer from the Village People, will finally get control of copyright to certain songs that he wrote back in the day.  Those songs include hits like "YMCA," "In the Navy" and "Go West."  Yes, he also wrote "Macho Man," but unfortunately, he wrote tht one before the relevant law went into effect.  That law was a provision in the 1978 Copyright Act that gave creators "termination rights" that permitted them to take back control of the copyright to their works after 35 years - even if they had originally signed away those rights.  We've all heard the horror stories of our favorite musicians in their lean and/or naive years signing away rights in one-sided contracts that favor the labels.  His is the first well-known case of an artist invoking those termination rights, which opens up a lot of possibilities for him.  Mr. Willis is quoted in the NYT article as saying, "I've had lots of offers, from records and publishing companies" although he isn't sure what he'll do next.  He does have these parting words of wisdom, "When you're young, you just want to get out there and aren't really paying attention to what's on paper.  I never even read one contract they put in front of me, and that's a big mistake."  It takes a real "macho man" to admit his mistakes. 

 

[Nancy Kim]

September 12, 2013 in Celebrity Contracts, In the News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Dave Chappelle and Breach of Contract

ChappelleComedian Dave Chappelle (pictured) is edgy, and people like that about his comedy.  His edge is what makes his comedy sophisticated, challenging and -- when it really works -- thrilling.  But edgy comedy can easily go awry.  Audiences might miss the fact that Mr. Chappelle often plays upon racial stereotypes rather than simply indulging or reenacting them. Edgy comedy makes demands of its audience, and sometimes the audience is not up to the challenge.  That is what appears to have happened last week in Hartford, Connecticut.  The other theory is that Mr. Chappelle had "a meltdown" in the face of a loud audience that wanted Mr. Chappelle's routine to be more interactive than he intended.  Aisha Harris has a balanced report on Slate, including some YouTube videos that might help people judge for themselves which version is accurate.  

Apparently, Mr. Chappelle was so disturbed, distracted, annoyed, and frustrated by an audience that would not stop shouting at him -- even though the shouts started as encouragement -- that he decided not to perform.  However, people speculate that he felt contractually obligated to remain on the stage for a full 25 minutes, and so he read aloud from a book, smoked a cigarette and variously occupied himself in ways that people have concluded were not his act until the time expired.  

The event raises interesting contractual questions whether one believes that Mr. Chappelle himself or Mr. Chappelles audience was to blame for what transpired.  Some of those questions run as follows:

  • Regardless of Mr. Chappelle's reasons, did he in fact abide by his contract simply by remaining on stage for 25 minutes?
  • Is there any argument that could be made that what happend in Hartford was a performance?  Could anyone have claimed breach of contract upon witnessing the premiere of John Cage's 4'33?
  • If heckling actually motivated a comedian (any comedian) to leave the stage early, would that be a breach of contract?
  • But if the shouting at Mr. Chappelle's show was actually intended to be encouraging or simply cries of affection for the comedian, does that change the analysis in the previous question? [The Beatles stopped touring because all that could be heard at their concerts were the screams of their teenaged fans, so if they stopped touring in the middle of a concert, would they be justified?]
  • Is there a remedy for individual ticket-holders in such a case, and against whom is their remedy?  They were not in privity with Mr. Chappelle, so they might sue the concert organizers who in turn could attempt to recover from Mr. Chappelle.
  • But if in fact the dynamic at the show in Hartford replayed the dynamic that motivated Mr. Chappelle to end his television show, is that a legitimate defense?  Can an African American comedian defend himself against a breach of contract suit on the ground that too many audience members were laughing at his jokes for the wrong reasons?

[JT]

 

September 2, 2013 in Celebrity Contracts, Commentary, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

New York Times Reports on the Contract that Brought Dvorak to New York

Dvorak1What at thrill to see a contracts story on the front page of the Saturday New York Times Arts Section above the fold!  The occasion is a public exhibition by the Dvorak American Heritage Association, which will display the actual contract that brought Antonin Dvorak (pictured contemplating a move to America) to New York for three years beginning in 1892.

According to the Times, Jeanette Thurber, wealthy patron of the National Conservatory of Music of America, agreed to pay Dvorak $15,000 -- 25 times what he was getting in Prage -- in return for his agreement to keep regular hours (well, three hours a day), teaching six days a week at her school.  She did give him summers off.  He was also contractually obligated to give up to six concertns a year.  It's not clear whether that means that he was himself to perform or if he was to conduct an orchestra or chamber music group composed of the Conservatory's students.

The Times reports that the panic of 1893 made it difficult for Mrs. Thurber to keep up with the payments she owed Dvorak.  He may have gone back to Prague a few thousand dollars short.  

[JT]

August 27, 2013 in Celebrity Contracts, In the News, Music | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

One-Day Contracts

Today's New York Times features an article on a relatively recent sports phenomenon -- the one-day contract.  In a nutshell, the one-days permit a retired player to re-sign with the team he played for in his prime, so that he can retire as a member of that team.  The player then shows up at the stadium and the fans can cheer him one last time (until the next opportunity comes around).    The team may benefit from the one-day contract in that fans may show up to cheer a retired star and re-experience a team's glory days.  The Times charaterizes these contracts as effecting for the players "a meaningless return to a team so they can reflect on how meaningful that team was to them." 

Jerry_RiceThis characterization strikes me as unfortunate.  The return is far from meaningless.  In fact, the contract is all about meaning and not at all about playing a particular sport or even about money for the athlete.  San Francisco 49er star Jerry Rice (pictured) was given a one-day contract that actually specified an amount, consisting of his rookie year (1985), his number (80), his retirement year ('06) and then 49, totaling $1,985,806.49.  But according to the Times (and Wikipedia), the amount was ceremonial.  Rice was not actually paid anything when he re-signed with the 49ers.  In baseball, the actual contracts are with farm teams, as teams cannot afford to give up a roster spot during the season -- even for one day.  This too is evidence that the contracts are not meaningless.

One blogger thinks the one-day contract phenomenon has gone too far, arguing both that it is meaningless and trivial and that it is an attempt at revisionist history.  These players did not actually end their careers with the teams that meant the most to those careers, and so the one-day contracts perpetrate a fraud.

Another way to look at it is that sports is imitating art, at least if the television series Lost is art.  Like the characters on Lost, these players get to return to a virtual reality in which they share experiences with the people who meant the most to them at the time in their lives when they had their biggest impact.

[JT]

July 31, 2013 in Celebrity Contracts, In the News, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

What Could Be More All-American than a Baseball Contract?

NY  MetsThere have been a few articles over the past few days about Bobby Bonilla's contract with the New York Mets.  Bonilla played for the Mets until he retired in 2001.  At that point, he still had $5.9 million outstanding on his contract.  Rather than giving Bonilla a lump sum payment, the Mets opted to pay him start paying him in 2011.  The Mets are to pay Bonilla a total of $29.8 million over 25 years.  

Cork Gaines of the Business Insider explains that this was a good deal for the Mets in terms of their bottom line on the Bonilla contract.  Assuming an 8% rate of return, the long-term payout deal is worth $10 million less over time to Bonilla than would a one-time payout.  And, because the Mets had the use for teny years of the $5.9 million that they owed Bonilla until the payouts began in 2011, they were able to invest that money, and the come out at the other end looking pretty good, assuming an 8% annual return on investment and ignoring all other issues, like the tax consequences of the transaction.  

In the New York Times, Jeff Z. Klein and Mary Pilon are decidedly less positive about the Bonilla contract, but they dutifully report that all parties involved stil believe they acted in their own best interest.  The Times provides some details missing from the Buinsss Insider report.  The Mets needed to get Bonilla off their books and out of their clubhouse so that they could free up space under the MLB salary cap and free themselves from an underperforming player who had become a distraction.  

We have expressed our view before that multi-million dollar, multi-year deals for veteran ballplayers are irrational.   With baseball mania for statistics, it ought to be possible to fine-tune baseball contracts with incentives so that players actually get paid for performance (you know, like CEOs) rather than getting paid for hitting .250 when they are 35 because they hit .320 when they were 29.

[JT]

July 4, 2013 in Celebrity Contracts, Commentary, In the News | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)