California, and the Greater Los Angeles Area in particular, is home to our nation’s massive entertainment industry. It employs hundreds of thousands of people, most notably actors. And while most people think only of those who are most famous, they do not realize that most people in the entertainment industry face the same challenges as any other worker. The difference is that artists work in a very unique industry which makes it difficult to anticipate and identify these issues. If you are an actor and have questions about your legal rights, a Los Angeles employment lawyer for actors can provide you with the guidance you need.
Talent Agency Contracts
Most performers in the Los Angeles area are focused on getting work to the exclusion of everything else. This is understandable, as they are typically working a traditional job in order to make ends meet, possibly even full-time. As a result, they overlook or undervalue the importance of their talent agency contract.
The talent agency is responsible for finding roles for the actor, whether it be in film, television, or commercials. The talent agent acts as an intermediary between the actor and the studio, negotiating the terms of their employment, including their compensation. The relationship between the actor and the talent agency is typically (and should be) governed by contract. While this is good news for artists, the unfortunate reality is that most people simply sign the contract without really understanding some of its most important provisions.
Actors need to understand that they do not have to sign their talent agency contract on the spot. You can request time to review it with legal counsel. An experienced lawyer can review your contract and explain each provision to you, identifying potential issues along the way. This way, you know precisely what the contract contains, including your rights and the agency’s obligations.
A Los Angeles Employment Law for Actors Discusses Contract Negotiations
Whether it is an acting contract, a talent agency contract, or some other contract related to your career, do not assume that your contract is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. It may be presented to you as such because the contract favors the other side of the agreement. In fact, these contracts are often very one-sided and may fail to address very important issues.
Generally speaking, contracts are negotiable. You have the right to have your contract reviewed by an attorney as they can identify potential issues in the contract. They can also discuss what terms you can expect to negotiate. From there, they can handle the negotiations on your behalf. As experienced negotiators, they will know how to work through the negotiation process to maximize the benefits to you. Perhaps most importantly, they can make sure that the contract is fair and that your rights are fully protected.
Of course, where there are contracts, there are contract disputes. This is not different for artists in the entertainment industry. Some of the most common contract disputes that performers encounter include the following:
- Disputes over compensation
- Disputes over exclusivity
- Disputes involving the use of the actor’s name or likeness
- Disputes over merchandising
- Disputes over publicity and promotion
- Disputes over credits
- Insurance disputes
- Disputes over wardrobe and other costs
Disputes are sometimes avoidable. The important thing for actors to remember is that engaging professional help can get your dispute resolved more quickly and more favorably than you would be able to do on your own. A veteran lawyer can advocate for your rights to make sure the dispute is resolved on favorable terms.
Wage and Hour Disputes
Acting roles can offer compensation in a variety of ways, including both flat fees and hourly pay. When paid on an hourly basis, unscrupulous studios can neglect to pay their artists a fair wage. Unfortunately, wage and hour claims are complex for actors because the entertainment industry enjoys numerous exemptions. For example, professional performers are generally exempt from laws governing overtime pay. There are also unique rules governing meal and rest periods.
If you believe that you have not been fairly compensated for the work you have performed, a Los Angeles employment lawyer can review your case, determine whether you have a claim, and help you get it resolved quickly. You may be entitled to your unpaid wages as well as interest and other penalties, plus your attorney’s fees and costs.
Residuals and Royalties
In many cases, residuals and royalties may ultimately pay far more than the basic compensation structure. As a result, it is important that you understand how your contract addresses this form of compensation and that it is structured in a way that is fair to you.
Another common issue with regard to residuals and royalties is when they are not properly paid. Residuals and royalties should be paid every time your work is broadcast on television or on a streaming platform. It is easy to miscalculate the residuals or royalties that you are owed, with some studios attempting to intentionally withhold payment.
If you have questions about your right to residuals or royalties, a lawyer can provide you with the guidance you need. They can negotiate for better compensation or pursue claims for any residuals or royalties that you are entitled to but did not receive.
Discrimination and Harassment
Sadly, the entertainment industry is rife with discrimination and sexual harassment, and actors are often the target. Any actor who is denied employment or otherwise treated differently due to their race, gender, religion, or other protected characteristic may be able to pursue a legal claim for compensation. More importantly, when you stand up for yourself, you stand up for others who have been targets of discrimination.
As evidenced by the #metoo movement, sexual harassment may be more common in the entertainment industry than discrimination. Performers are often subjected to sexual harassment in one of two forms, and sometimes both:
- Quid pro quo sexual harassment: this is when the actor is pressured to provide sexual favors in exchange for some benefit. For example, a casting director may suggest that an actor will secure a role if they agree to sleep with the producer. Quid pro quo sexual harassment can be either subtle or overt, either of which is against the law.
- Hostile work environment: this is when the actor is subjected to jokes, insults, lewd gestures, derogatory comments, or similar behavior that is so pervasive that the actor is uncomfortable and unable to do their job as well as they would otherwise. A hostile work environment can be created by the director, producers, and other executives or by their fellow actors, set workers, or other colleagues. Employers who refuse to take action to address complaints concerning hostile work environments can be held accountable.
If you believe that you have been discriminated against or sexually harassed, contact a qualified attorney. They can review your case, provide guidance for what you can do to protect yourself, and if necessary, pursue a claim on your behalf to protect your rights.
Los Angeles Employment Lawyer for Actors in Retaliation Claims
One of the things we have learned in recent years is that performers are often reluctant to come forward when their rights have been violated because they fear retaliation. In the context of the entertainment industry, those who speak up in defense of their rights can find themselves getting fewer roles, getting less desirable roles, being branded as difficult to work with, or simply being snubbed at industry events that would lead to other opportunities. Any adverse action taken against you in response to asserting your rights is considered retaliatory and is against the law. If you believe that you have been retaliated against, a seasoned attorney can help you understand what options are available for protecting yourself.
Privacy and Image Rights
A major aspect of an actor’s brand is their image and likeness. As a result, the unauthorized use of their image and likeness can undermine their value and essentially deny them fair compensation. The laws concerning the use of an actor’s image and likeness are complex and may also involve questions concerning what rights the actor has granted to others under contract.
Related questions can arise when the actor’s privacy is violated, notably by members of the paparazzi. While they do not have any contractual right to your image and likeness, it can sometimes be difficult to determine when they are or are not violating your privacy.
Social media and other online platforms can also raise questions about your privacy and image rights. People can create profiles purporting to be you or simply use the internet or social media to spread slanderous and libelous statements.
A skilled attorney can help you navigate these issues, ensure that your rights are protected, and take action on your behalf when your rights are violated.
Contact a Los Angeles Employment Lawyer for Actors at Attorneys for Employees Today
We understand the challenges that artists face in the entertainment industry when it comes to protecting their rights. Whether you have questions about a contract or believe that you have been sexually harassed, we will be your advocate. Get the help you need by getting in touch today to discuss your issues and how we can help.