Monday, July 13, 2015
We have some news from the world of hockey, that is, the sport of the 2015 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks (logo pictured). While elite teams (like the Blackhawks) struggle to keep their rosters under the salary camp (Goodbye Patrick Sharp; Goodbye Brandon Saad -- thanks for the memories and the Cups!), as reported on ESPN.com, the L.A. Kings used an alleged "material" breach of contract to terminate center Mike Richards rather than buying him out to evade the cap. The alleged material breach was at first mysterious, but it has now bee reported, e.g., here on Forbes.com, that Richards was detained at the Canadian border in illegal possession of OxyContin. But the Forbes report also indicates that Richards' mere arrest is not grounds for termination, and even if he is convicted, the NHL's drug policy does not call for termination. It calls for substance abuse treatment. Go Blackhawks!
The Bangor Daily News reports that author Tess Gerritsen has dropped her $10 million law suit against Warner Bros. for breach of contract in connection with the film "Gravity." As we reported previously, a District Court in California dismissed her complaint but allowed her twenty days to amend and refile. The complaint is based on a $1 million contract Gerritsen signed in 1999 to sell the book’s feature film rights to a company that was eventually purchased by Warner Bros. Gerritsen has admitted that the film "is not based on" her book, but she asserts that the book clearly inspired the film.
Friday, July 3, 2015
Late night comedians everywhere celebrated when Donald Trump (pictured) announced his candidacy for President. We too are grateful for the blog fodder. Politico reports that the Donald is suing Univision over its decision to withdraw from a five-year $13.5 contract to broadcast the Miss USA and Miss Universe Pageants, which Trump co-owns. As Time Magazine reports here, NBC has also backed out of airing the Miss USA Pageant, and several people involved have also given the Donald their notice. Trump's partners were upset by statements he made as part of his Presidential campaign that disparaged Mexico and Mexicans. Never fear, the pageant will still be broadcast on Reelz (whatever that is).
Meanwhile, London's The Guardian reports that Harvey Keitel is suing E*Trade for withdrawing from a commitment with Keitel to feature him in a series of three commercials for $1.5 million. According to The Guardian, E*Trade really wanted Christopher Walken for the spots. It was willing to settle for Keitel, until Kevin Spacey became available. E*Trade offered Keitel a $150,000 termination fee, but Keitel says that's not enough.
Students are often astonished that major corporations sometimes operate through informal arrangements such as letters of intent. The fact that they do -- and that they can get in trouble by doing so -- is illustrated in Belfast International Airport's (BIA) attempt to enforce a letter agreement with Aer Lingus. As reported by the BBC, BIA read the letter as embodying a ten-year commitment from Aer Lingus to fly out of BIA. The court found that the agreement merely covered pricing should Aer Lingus continue to fly out of BIA for ten years. Aer Lingus decided to switch to Belfast City Airport, claiming that its arrangement with BIA was no longer financially viable.
Monday, April 27, 2015
April is the finest month for a Chicago Cubs fan, because even the Cubs are within a few games of first place in April.
And hope springs anew with each Spring Training This year Cubs fans have extra reason to hope because of young prospect, Kris Bryant. There was only one catch. Bryant did not start the year playing for the Cubs. As reported here in Business Journalism, despite hitting nine home runs in 40 at bats and earning a .425 batting average, Bryant was demoted to the Cubs' Triple-A affiliate for the start of the season. Cubs GM, Theo Epstein, gave Bryant's need to develop his defensive skills as the reason for the demotion, but many believe that the purpose is to delay Bryant's eligibility for arbitration and free-agency. Bryant's ability to avail himself of these mechanisms would kick in 2017 and 2020 respectively if Bryant was on the Cubs' roster to start the season, but they will kick in a year later if Bryant misses the season's first ten games.
Thirteen days into the season, the Cubs brought Bryant up from the minors. Mike Olt and his lifetime .158 batting average kept third base occupied while Bryant was improving his defensive skills.
Monday, February 23, 2015
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.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Friend 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?"
Monday, February 9, 2015
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.
Monday, December 1, 2014
We 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.
Thursday, November 27, 2014
This 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!
Friday, August 22, 2014
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.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
I 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:
Monday, March 10, 2014
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
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
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!
Friday, December 20, 2013
Chicago 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.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
On 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.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
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!
Monday, October 28, 2013
As 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.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
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]
Thursday, September 26, 2013
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?
Thursday, September 12, 2013
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.
Monday, September 2, 2013
Comedian 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?