Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Music Business/Law Tips - "Breaking A Record Contract" (Part 4)

Being a minor under contract also provides a loophole for dissatisfied artists. In the current marketplace, there is a high consumer demand for teen idols (e.g., Justin Bieber, Cody Simpson). As a result, many minors are signing recording agreements. The major risk in entering a contract with a minor is that generally under California Family Code Section 6751 [and similar laws in other states] the contract is voidable at the option of the minor either "during the minority of the person entering the contract, or at any time thereafter....". In California, the age of majority has been 18 since 1971. Hence, once success is achieved, an artist could use to his/her advantage the fact that the contract was signed during minority, thereby opting to disaffirm the contract.

David Cassidy, the 1970s pop star, used this exact scenario to his advantage. As a teenage unknown, he signed a production contract to act on the TV show The Partridge Family, and to record on Partridge Family records. The contract granted the producers of the show and the recordings the right to use Cassidy's name, image and likeness. Partly as a result of Cassidy's teen idol good looks, the show and records became a runaway success and the producers cashed in by selling millions of dollars worth of recordings and merchandise. In order to force the producers to renegotiate his deal, Cassidy notified them that since he had signed the contract as a minor (21 was still the age of majority when he executed his agreement in 1970), he was disaffirming the contract and thus the producers would have to remove his name, image and voice from everything manufactured up to that point. Not having a legal leg to stand on, the producers renegotiated his deal, making Cassidy the highest paid young performer at that time.

In order to avoid a situation like the above, recording agreements in which a minor "is employed...to render artistic or creative services" (e.g., singer or performer) can be approved by the superior court, as allowed for by Section 6751, which prevents the minor from disaffirming the contract. (i.e., as if the minor had signed the contract as an adult). Approval of the court may be given on petition of either party to the contract and after a hearing and/or simply a court review of the paperwork. Although court approval of a minor contract is routinely done in the entertainment industry, not all record companies make the effort (or are too cheap or lazy) to protect their investment, and thus the artist can use this failure to the artist's advantage.

[part 5 next time]

Ben McLane Esq

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