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Talent Agreements for Reality TV Series – There’s A Hefty Price To Pay

Everybody wants to be the Next Big Thing. Right? The Voice, American Idol, Rap Wars. The Network chose you, from millions of potential contestants, to appear in this season’s series. That’s flattering. Right? Your appearance on the show guarantees you a successful career, even if you don’t win. Right? It’s really tempting. But who truly benefits from your services on the show?11239528094_8bf12333c5_n

Two words: The Network. The Network will require you to sign a series of contracts that are essentially non-negotiable. So, you want to be on the show? Here it is, take it or leave it. For example, with a music-based series, such as the Voice, the Network will require your exclusive services for the duration of the series season in which you appear, plus a period of time following the conclusion of the series. You’ll be obligated not only to appear in the series (to the exclusion of most every other entertainment enterprise), but to also be available for promotional activities and sponsor-related commercials (if Tide sponsors the show, you can be required to do Tide commercials playing upon your fame as a participant on the show); you will waive any recourse you may have for pretty much anything that happens to you while on the show, including the right to sue for damage to your reputation on account of how the Network presents you to the world. In real life you’re not really an adulterous leprosy carrier? Too bad for you if that’s the way the Network decides to portray you.

Whether or not you win the competition, the Network will own all rights to all of your performances. If you perform original musical material, you will likely be required to assign a portion of your publishing rights, and the Network, of course, owns the rights to your master recordings produced on the show. Often, though, you will retain your rights to material you wrote before being selected for the show; material that you write for the show will typically belong to the Network, as a work for hire.

If you’re the winner – God forbid – be prepared for another round of basically non-negotiable contracts that will greatly limit your rights: an exclusive 360 recording contract (the label will take a percentage of all your entertainment related income, not just from record sales) with multiple lengthy, mandatory options (generally, the Network can decide to extend the initial term of the recording agreement for additional periods, whether or not the Network has been successful in advancing your recording career, and whether or not you want to remain in the contract); the Network will sign you to an exclusive management agreement with multiple option periods, and take a percentage of all your entertainment-related income; and if you’re a songwriter, you can expect to sign a publishing agreement as well (with multiple option periods), and you’ll assign at least half your publishing rights to the publisher, your administration rights (so the Network will collect all public performance income on your behalf, then distribute it to you, minus their share of publishing plus a fee for this privilege).

Surely, you say, if the Network is going to take all these rights from me, they will at least pay me well. Right? That’s a matter of perspective, but generally, the appearance fee for being on the show will be small (maybe as little as a few thousand dollars, for a series-long commitment; you’ll get some additional money for sponsor-related activities, but not for additional promo work the Network requires). The recording contract will pay you an advance against royalties (it’s recoupable, of course, and that may be the only money you see from the recording contract unless sales are sufficient to cover all the Network’s advances). The publishing agreement will require that you deliver a certain number of songs over the course of the term of the agreement, and the Network will pay you a bit of money as an advance (recoupable) upon signing the contract and with each option renewal.

Are you under 18 years old? As a minor, you can’t be legally bound to most contracts requiring your services (you lack the legal capacity), and your parent or legal guardian must sign on your behalf. Some shows that feature minors also include the minors’ parents (like Rap Wars), and your parent or guardian will be required to sign separate contracts if they will also appear on the show.

Before you agree to do the show, know what you’re getting into. Have your agreements reviewed by competent legal counsel skilled in analyzing entertainment contracts. Give me a call. Then decide to do the show with a full understanding of the pros and the cons.