Imagine you win one of the most successful reality television shows in history, along with the hearts and votes of millions of Americans. Yet, now, you are forced to sign a contract that allows your managers and producers to refuse to disclose to you the name of your upcoming album, obligates you to perform live without compensation, and grants your producers a disproportionately large share of the mechanical royalties from your album sales. According to the Hollywood Reporter, this is the basis for Phillip Phillips’ petition to the California Labor Commission. The American Idol Season 11 winner claims that American Idol producer, 19 Entertainment, and its affiliates coerced him to agree to various contract terms that have dictated his career path. Prior to winning Idol, Phillips entered into a series of contracts that controlled the terms of his management, recording and publishing deals, as well as merchandise agreements—all of which significantly favor 19 Entertainment. Phillips says he was “manipulated” into entering the agreements and, despite his “frequent requests,” 19 Entertainment has thwarted all of his attempts to renegotiate the terms and conditions.
Phillips’ claim against 19 Entertainment relies on the Talent Agencies Act (TAA), a California law that states that only licensed talent agents may find employment gigs for their clients. According to Phillips’ complaint, 19 Entertainment is not a talent agent, yet continues to procure various appearances and shows where Phillips must perform, amounting to a “pattern and practice of flagrant violations of the [TAA]”. Other celebrities have previously used the TAA to stop paying their managers commissions but Phillip’s faces an uphill battle as the TAA has a notable carve out for recording contracts such as his. Additionally, suits involving the TAA tend to move at a snail’s pace, with rulings often handed down years after the initial filing. However, if Phillips is successful in his suit against 19 Entertainment thereby voiding his deals, the ramifications could be monumental and have a profound influence on the contracts of future reality TV winners.
Loren Shokes is an Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2017).