Contracts

How to Spot a Rights Grab

25 April 2015

From The Book Designer:

Writers see the warnings all the time. Watch out for rights grabs, those contracts that transfer all rights to the writer’s work to some less-than-reputable publisher or self-publishing company. Without realizing it, the writer has given away the right to publish his or her book in print, ebook, audio, app, and all future formats, in all languages, worldwide, for the life of the copyright. Heartbreaking.

. . . .

The answer, of course, is read the contract before your hit Submit.

Daunting? Not if you know where to look. Instead of starting at the beginning of the contract, go straight to any paragraph called Grant of Rights, License, Permission, or Permitted Uses, and look for these Danger Words: Assignment and Exclusive.

If you see these Danger Words, you may not need to read any further.

Assignment

Legally speaking, a publishing contract is a license, meaning permission to use. The writer continues to own the copyright. In contrast, an assignment transfers complete ownership. It is rarely appropriate in publishing or self-publishing, except for a freelance or ghostwriting project if you understand upfront you are transferring all your rights and ownership in the work.

. . . .

Section 3. Assignment. Author does hereby irrevocably assign to Company and its successors all right, title, and interest throughout the world, in and to the Approved Entries, including without limitation, any copyrights and other proprietary rights in and to the Approved Entries in any media now known or hereinafter developed, and in and to all income, royalties,damages, claims and payments now or hereafter due or payable with respect thereto, and in and to all causes of action, either in law or in equity for past, present, or future infringement of such rights.

. . . .

An exclusive license can be as bad as an assignment.

As I said, a license is permission to use only; you, the creator, retain ownership of the copyrighted work.

Licenses may be worldwide or geographically restricted, short-term or perpetual, royalty-free or royalty-paying, limited to particular media such as audio books, print, e-books, or to a particular language, and most importantly, exclusive or nonexclusive.

If you grant a non-exclusive license, then you may grant the same rights to others at the same time. If you grant an exclusive license, you are agreeing not to transfer similar rights to anyone else.

A license is similar to a lease. Imagine you are a landlord of a shopping center, and you lease shops to various tenants. Their rent is based on how much they sell. Each shop lease is like an exclusive license granted to only one user. Other licenses, such as the right to use the parking lot, are non-exclusive.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer and thanks to James for the tip.

The OP does a good job of describing typical pitfalls.

PG will reiterate Joel’s advice to read the entire contract before accepting it. Yes, it’s no fun and will take some time, but, if it’s a contract for the life of the copyright and you agree to it, you’ll be living with that contract for the rest of your life.

You don’t need to read the entire contract in order to reject it, however. You should read it before you agree to it because the whole contract needs to be right or you should reject it. In an online situation where there is no negotiation of the contract terms, you’re looking for reasons to reject the contract, not accept it. If you find a reason to reject the contract, you’re done with your reading.

Online contracts are usually easy to search if you’re reading them in a browser. You might want to search for words like exclusive, copyright, irrevocable, grant, assign, royalty-free and license. You’ll need to read what you discover to see the context of those words. If you find something you don’t like, post an online warning to your fellow writers and go back to working on your book. You don’t need to read the rest of the contract.

If this technique doesn’t raise any red flags (it’s definitely not a fool-proof solution), you’re stuck reading everything.

 

Good Agents Geek Out About Contracts

2 April 2015

From The Huffington Post:

I recently watched a video of a panel discussion from the Backspace Writers Conference video archives in which Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency, Scott Hoffman of Folio Literary Management, Suzie Townsend (then of Fineprint Literary Management, now with New Leaf Literary), and Diana Fox of Fox Literary discussed the nuances of publishing contracts.

One of the things I learned is that publishers often change their contracts to give themselves more favorable terms. Agents who are paying attention pick up on the differences and understand the ramifications. Agents who aren’t, don’t.

As an example, the agents explained how a few year ago, Simon & Schuster removed four sentences from the end of the rights reversion clause. These sentences defined the sales threshold, which states that rights will revert to the author if the number of sales drops under a specified amount. Removing these sentences meant that if the publisher also bought digital rights, the book would in effect never go out of print, and the publisher would own the rights to the work in perpetuity.

This created a furor among agents who were paying attention. But not every agent caught the change. Some even let their clients sign the contract, then had to negate that contract and start over again. And some didn’t catch the change at all, which left their authors with no possibility of ever getting the rights to these novels back.

I also learned that agents “geek out” over contracts, as one agent put it. It’s a good thing they do, because as I listened to these agents enthuse over the finer points of contract details, my eyes glazed over. Not that the panel wasn’t interesting and enlightening — it was. Rather, I quickly realized that the nuances of contracts were so not my thing — like signing up for a study course and finding out two weeks in that you have zero interest in the subject.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

If agents are so good with contracts, why do virtually all publishing contracts from Big Publishing contain provisions that are so unfair to authors, whether represented by an agent or not?

PG threw in the “virtually” in the previous sentence by way of being lawyerly. He’s never actually seen a contract from Big Publishing that did not include unfair provisions, but perhaps one exists somewhere. In a virtual universe.

PG must have forgotten to take his anti-cynicism meds this morning. He needs to go look at pictures of unicorns for a bit.

Amazon makes even temporary warehouse workers sign 18-month non-competes

30 March 2015

From The Verge:

Amazon is the country’s largest and most sophisticated online retailer, but it still runs largely on manual labor. Scattered around the country are massive warehouses staffed by workers who spend their days picking objects off shelves and putting them in boxes. During the holiday season, the company calls on a huge reserve army of temporary laborers.

The work is repetitive and physically demanding and can pay several dollars above minimum wage, yet Amazon is requiring these workers — even seasonal ones — to sign strict and far-reaching noncompete agreements. The Amazon contract, obtained by The Verge, requires employees to promise that they will not work at any company where they “directly or indirectly” support any good or service that competes with those they helped support at Amazon, for a year and a half after their brief stints at Amazon end. Of course, the company’s warehouses are the beating heart of Amazon’s online shopping empire, the extraordinary breadth of which has earned it the title of “the Everything Store,” so Amazon appears to be requiring temp workers to foreswear a sizable portion of the global economy in exchange for a several-months-long hourly warehouse gig.

. . . .

“Employee recognizes that the restrictions in this section 4 may significantly limit Employee’s future flexibility in many ways,” the agreement asserts, referencing the section containing the noncompete agreement and three other clauses. “Employee further recognizes that the geographic areas for many of Amazon’s products and services — and, by extension, the geographic areas applicable to certain restrictions in this Section 4 — are extremely broad and in many cases worldwide.”

The contract — which was obtained through applying and being accepted to a seasonal Amazon warehouse position — even includes a provision that requires employees who sign it to “disclose and provide a true and correct copy of this Agreement to any prospective new employer […] BEFORE accepting employment[…]”

. . . .

It’s unclear whether Amazon has attempted to enforce its noncompete contracts with hourly warehouse workers, and Amazon did not respond when asked about this by The Verge. But the company does have a history of aggressively pursuing such cases against white collar workers. Last year, after a former Amazon marketing manager took a job at Google, Amazon leveled a suit against him that was said to test the limits of noncompete law. The willingness of courts to validate such agreements can vary dramatically across states. But regardless of whether courts are willing to enforce them, noncompetes can still affect workers’ behavior.

. . . .

Courts are often reluctant to enforce noncompete agreements that cover the entire United States, let alone the whole world, according to Garden, who notes that the standard of “reasonableness” is the main legal test of the agreements. Yet different states have far different ideas of what counts as reasonable. (In an apparent nod to this, the Amazon contract stipulates that the signer consents that “each and every covenant and restraint in this Agreement is reasonable.”) California law bans the enforcement of noncompetes. Oregon, North Dakota, and Colorado have also enacted strict limits on noncompetes. “Then there are states like Texas and Florida and a bunch of others that are on the other end of the spectrum,” says Lobel, “that think of it as a simple contract issue, and if you sign the contract and you breach it then, well, you’ve breached the contract, and they’ll enforce it, and they’ll give injunctions quite easily.”

Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Jan for the tip.

PG says the story sounds a little weird and you can count him as skeptical.

In the first place, while the laws vary from state to state, most courts considering noncompete agreements tend to apply a reasonableness test when asked to enforce them.

It’s difficult for PG to envision very many judges enforcing an 18 month noncompete agreement against a temporary warehouse worker. It’s also difficult to believe that courts would enforce a noncompete agreement prohibiting a former low-level hourly employee from working for a competitor within a large geographical area for a low level worker. As a matter of public policy, most state governments aren’t trying to prevent their residents from being gainfully employed.

In one case PG remembers, Amazon sued in Washington to enforce a non-compete against one of its vice-presidents in the Amazon cloud business who went to work for Google’s cloud business. If PG’s recollection is correct, the court hearing the case reduced the time for the non-compete from 18 months to 3 months. If the vice-president had continued to work during the litigation, the three months would have almost certainly expired before the court handed down its decision.

As mentioned, non-compete agreements are illegal in California except in very narrow circumstances. If Google had moved the VP to California and he sued Amazon in California, it is almost certain a California court would have voided the non-compete agreement and barred Amazon from enforcing it.

Additionally, there’s the practical question involved in Amazon ever discovering that one of its former warehouse employees has started working for a competitor. If you’re an Amazon vice-president that starts working for a competitor, your profile is high enough so Amazon is likely to hear about the new job. If you move from an Amazon warehouse to a Wal-Mart warehouse, the chances of being discovered are minuscule.

PG says that blanket noncompete agreements for all employees are a really dumb idea in part because gaining a reputation for suing its former employees hurts a company when it is recruiting high-quality talent. Amazon usually doesn’t do dumb things, but maybe their employment lawyers are an exception.

Sony fails to knock out 19’s Idol stars lawsuit

19 March 2015

From CMU:

Sony Music has failed to have a wide-ranging lawsuit filed by 19 Entertainment a year ago dismissed, though some elements of the case have been thrown out.

As previously reported, ‘American Idol’-owning 19 Entertainment, which also manages many of the finalists that appeared on the talent show franchise, last year sued Sony Music, which traditionally signed ‘Idol’ winners, claiming that it had found “systemically incorrect calculations” on two separate audits of royalty payments made by the major. It then added that the record company had failed to allow 19’s bean counters to access all the data they required to do a full audit.

. . . .

As previously noted, 19’s litigation includes one of the big fat debates of the moment in artist management circles, whether digital income should count as ‘licensing’ or ‘sales’ income with artist contracts that don’t specifically mention downloads and/or streams.

It’s an important distinction, because artists traditionally get a much bigger cut of the loot with licensing money that they do with sales income. Labels say that downloads and streams should be classified as sales for royalty purposes, but many heritage artists point out that what the labels negotiate with iTunes and Spotify are definitely ‘licensing deals’.

And this issue is one that will be allowed to proceed, potentially giving more court time to a dispute that has been subject to countless lawsuits and artist/label deals (some public, most under the radar), but which has generally had little judicial consideration, except in the famous FBT Productions case against Universal, which the majors have always insisted doesn’t set a precedent.

Among the other elements of the case also allowed to proceed is another favourite with artist managers and lawyers, the way labels sometimes confuse things when money moves between global subsidiaries, this time in relation to advertising spend. 19 accuses Sony of using “sleight of hand” tactics to reduce its royalty obligations to its artists.

Link to the rest at CMU

PG notes that since this case is in New York, it has the potential to provide some rulings that could impact a lot of tradpub publishing contracts.

Wheel of Time TV pilot producers sue Robert Jordan’s widow for defamation

15 February 2015

From ars technica:

The tale of the late-night Wheel of Time pilot that aired in a paid infomercial slot on FXX has taken another odd turn. Producers Red Eagle Entertainment LLC and Manetheren LLC have filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for central California against Harriet McDougal (widow of James Rigney, who wrote the Wheel of Time novels under the pen name Robert Jordan), her company, Bandersnatch Group Inc., and twenty unnamed other persons (“Does 1-20″). The suit alleges that McDougal’s statements about her lack of involvement in the pilot’s production constitute breach of contract, slander, and interference with contractual relations and prospective economic relations; the suit demands declaratory relief and a jury trial.

With the pilot coming essentially out of nowhere and airing with no fanfare, very few fans of the series were even aware of its existence until after the fact; it was clear that the production was accomplished in very little time and on a minimal budget. The resulting effort (titled “Winter Dragon”) did not resemble the series prologue very closely, and it quickly drew strong rebuke from McDougal, who claimed the pilot was made “without my knowledge or cooperation,” and that no one from Robert Jordan’s estate has been involved in any way with it. McDougal claims that Universal currently holds the rights to the Wheel of Time TV series, not Red Eagle Entertainment, and that the pilot made no mention of Universal or her own company, the Bandersnatch Group.

. . . .

All together, the suit claims that McDougal’s statement itself is defamatory and harms Manetheran and Red Eagle’s ability to do further business; that McDougal breached a nondisparagement agreement by making the statement; and that McDougal and the Bandersnatch Group are intentionally interfering with Manetheran and Red Eagle’s contractual and potential economic relationships.

Link to the rest at ars technica and thanks to Ric for the tip.

PG says the suit will make certain that even more Robert Jordan fans know about this disagreement.

Wheel of Time is the sad lesson of what can happen when you sell the rights to your books

11 February 2015

From Vox:

At 1:30 in the morning on Monday, February 9, a highly unusual program aired for a half hour on out-of-the-way cable channel FXX. Billed as Winter Dragon in some listings and The Wheel of Time in others, it was apparently a TV pilot for an adaptation of Robert Jordan’s ridiculously popular Wheel of Time fantasy series.

. . . .

The Wheel of Time is of great interest to TV fantasy fans because it has the potential to be the next Game of Thrones. Its sprawling world and gigantic cast of characters make it the natural choice for any network that might want to get in on the epic fantasy action. Plus, the pilot starred well-known actor Billy Zane. Outside of some terrible computer special effects, the production values were solid. And it was based on a beloved book series.

So why on Earth was it airing at 1:30 am on a Monday on FXX?

The answer to that has very little to do with quality control and everything to do with how TV networks and movie studios handle adaptations of popular material. The contracts governing those adaptations create situations like this all the time.

. . . .

Thanks to the huge success of HBO’s Game of Thrones, TV and film are hungry for grittier adaptations of fantasy novels, and Wheel of Time more than fits that description. Thus, an adaptation seems like an inevitability.

Or, rather, it would if a company that seemingly redefines incompetence didn’t own the rights.

. . . .

A short-lived attempt to get a series version of Wheel of Time off the ground was first made by NBC in 2000. That attempt failed, and the rights were sold by Jordan’s company, Bandersnatch Group, to Red Eagle Entertainment.

Red Eagle first exercised its adaptation rights with a comic book adaptation in 2005. In 2008, it actually got so far as to sign a deal with Universal to produce film versions of the books. (Remember Universal. Though it appears to have nothing to do with the FXX pilot, it will be important later.)

Significantly, if you go to Red Eagle’s website, which hasn’t been updated since 2009, it appears to be a company that exists solely to attempt adaptations of Jordan’s books. It’s done nothing else of note.

Wheel of Time films didn’t materialize, to Jordan’s anger and consternation. Yet Red Eagle retained the rights to the series through Wednesday, February 11, 2015, according to Jordan’s widow, Harriet McDougal Rigney.

. . . .

Thus, the pilot appears to be a bit of a rush job, created to beat the February 11 deadline. It was filmed mere weeks ago, according to its director, then rushed to air. It has every appearance of being a last-ditch attempt by Red Eagle to retain the rights to Jordan’s series.

. . . .

Most contracts between creators and those who buy adaptation rights to said creations have built-in expiration dates when the rights revert to the creator. These expiration dates vary, based on how much rights-purchasers wish to pay.

But these expiration dates also usually include a crucial caveat. If the person who buys the adaptation rights keeps making adaptations of the original property, the rights will usually stay with them.

. . . .

Rigney, Jordan’s widow, said in a statement:

It was made without my knowledge or cooperation. I never saw the script. No one associated with Bandersnatch Group, the successor-in-interest to James O. Rigney, was aware of this.

Bandersnatch has an existing contract with Universal Pictures that grants television rights to them until this Wednesday, February 11 – at which point these rights revert to Bandersnatch.

I see no mention of Universal in the “pilot”. Nor, I repeat, was Bandersnatch, or Robert Jordan’s estate, informed of this in any way.

Remember Universal? That reference to the studio may prove key. If, indeed, Bandersnatch’s adaptation rights contract was with Universal and not Red Eagle, then whatever claim Red Eagle has to the property will fall apart. If that contract was with Red Eagle directly, however, or if Universal turns out to have funded this secret pilot, things will get more complicated.

Link to the rest at Vox and thanks to Claire for the tip.

My Gravity Lawsuit and How It Affects Every Writer Who Sells to Hollywood

31 January 2015

From author Tess Gerritsen:

Yesterday, the court granted Warner Bros’s motion to dismiss my lawsuit against them. While Warner Bros crows victory, the judge has in fact left the door open for me to pursue my claim, allowing my legal team twenty days to revise our complaint and address a single issue: the corporate relationship between Warner Bros. and New Line Productions.

. . . .

In 1999, I sold the film rights to my book GRAVITY to New Line Productions. The contract stipulates that if a movie is made based on my book, I will receive “based upon” credit, a production bonus, and a percentage of net profits. The book is about a female medical doctor/astronaut who is stranded aboard the International Space Station after the rest of her crew is killed in a series of accidents. A biological hazard aboard ISS traps her in quarantine, unable to return to earth. While my film was in development, I re-wrote the third act of the film script with scenes of satellite debris destroying ISS and the lone surviving female astronaut adrift in her spacesuit.

. . . .

In 2008, Warner Bros acquired New Line Productions. The takeover was rumored to be brutal, with numerous New Line employees losing their jobs overnight.

Sometime around 2008 – 2009, Alfonso Cuaron wrote his original screenplay “Gravity” about a female astronaut who is the sole survivor after her colleagues are killed by satellite debris destroying their spacecraft. She is left adrift in her space suit, and is later stranded aboard the International Space Station. I noted the similarities, but I had no evidence of any connection between Cuaron and my project. Without proof, I could not publicly accuse him of theft, so when asked about the similarities by fans and reporters, I told them it could be coincidence.

In February 2014, my literary agent was informed of Cuaron’s attachment to my project back in 2000. Now the similarities between my book and Cuaron’s movie could no longer be dismissed as coincidence. I sought legal help, and we filed a Breach of Contract complaint that April. Please note: this is not a case of copyright infringement. Warner Bros., through its ownership of New Line, also owns the film rights to my book. They had every right to make the movie — but they claim they have no obligation to honor my contract with New Line.

This is why every writer who sells to Hollywood should be alarmed.

It means that any writer who sold film rights to New Line Productions can have those rights freely exploited by its parent company Warner Bros. — and the original contract you signed with New Line will not be honored. Warner Bros. can make a movie based on your book but you will get no credit, even though your contract called for it.

Link to the rest at Tess Gerritsen and thanks to Clair for the tip.

Here’s a link to Tess Gerritsen’s books

 

 

Reasoning with the Unreasonable?

31 January 2015

From author Renee Bernard:

Recently, I’ve begun drafting my next semi-annual requests to my previous NY based publishers for the rights to revert back to me for dustier tomes that I would love to welcome back onto my shelves. It’s become a bit of a ritual and repeated rite of supplication and rejection for me.  For a lot of Indie authors, it’s just part of the landsacpe–a nearly hopeless quest to recover your creative offspring and reunite them with their newer siblings.

I ask.  They say, no.   It isn’t fun.

They say something about the book still being available for sale…and with the veils of secrecy that they’ve perfected over a century, it’s tough to argue that it is NOT “in print” if one box is rotting in a warehouse, or if they’ve jobbed out copies for pennies on the dollar and it’s clear they aren’t making any print runs anytime soon (aka never).  Prove it.  Even if I buy the few remaining copies at a fire sale, they refuse to let go.  They use the same electronic copies that have become the stuff of dreams against you because those books never go out of print, right? Sorry.

As NY publishing continues to stumble in the dark, the fallback position is to hold onto everything they have, either for fear of losing the tiniest revenue stream from past books or out of the hope that one of those long-neglected and dropped authors will become quite the lottery win if the writer goes on to do great things outside of their hold.  For them, they think retaining every scrap of rights is a win-win.

. . . .

If an author has stepped away from traditional publishing, they probably had reasons.  By refusing to play nice and yield publication rights when it is reasonable to do so–you step firmly into the role of greedy villain.  Which while probably an awesome thing to be in a captitalist profit-driven scenario in a Hollywood film, won’t sustain an industry in the real world for long.  As talent flees in droves and the publishing world changes, what hope do they have of luring back any of those Big Fish if things do take a turn for the better?

What author would look back and say, “Yes! Oh, please! You’ve been so reasonable and pleasant to deal with!  Where do I sign?”

They lock the door on any future contracts with incredible writers because let’s face it, those creative types tend to remember every bruise and insult.  The business model becomes dependent on new, naive, uninformed talent to sign on the dotted line… And we all know how that’s going!  Because writers are talking to each other!  We communicate.  We share stories of our experiences, numbers, names, details.  That’s right–it’s quite the forum out there!  In other words, I believe that the pool of talent they say is shrinking is in fact the pool of willing newbies they can attract with the diminishing prestige of hardcovers and shiny marketing.

Link to the rest at Renee Bernard

Here’s a link to Renee Bernard’s books

Sure, I Trust You

29 January 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Here’s the one sentence response that I expected to last week’s post  and didn’t receive:

I know some writers have had troubles, but my agent [editor/publisher] would never do something like that.

Am I optimistic enough to believe that writers—traditional and indie—are finally getting the message that they’re business people? And, as business people, they should operate under the trust-but-verify model?

Or have I simply trained the people who respond to my blog not to put that sentence on here? (And if that’s the answer, then how come I didn’t see that sentence in the comment threads on other sites?)

In the past, I’d put up a post challenging the numbers coming out of traditional publishing and half a dozen writers would defend traditional publishing, their agents, or their editors.

But so far, no one has—at least in the venues I’ve seen.

Does that finally mean that events of the last few years have proven to writers that traditional publishing does not hold a writer’s best interest at heart?

. . . .

It doesn’t matter how much you trust your editor or your agent, they’re not the ones handling every aspect of your career. You are. You are responsible for your career. And as such, you need to trust but verify.

In other words, you need to run your business as a business.

When I negotiate contracts, I always imagine that I’m negotiating with someone worse than the person I’m actually negotiating with. The easiest way to do this is to imagine that the person handling the other side’s negotiation gets fired or dies or moves to a better job, and gets replaced by a savvy spawn of Satan. That spawn of Satan will take every innocently drafted clause of the contract and twist it to his advantage.

My job, if I do it correctly, is to make certain that the clauses can only be interpreted as written.

. . . .

But there’s more to trusting and verifying than audit clauses or even a fiduciary responsibility.

There’s an attitude.

When I started in the publishing business, long-time professional writers told me that my relationship with my agent would be like a marriage. I was startled, because at that point, I had just come out of a divorce, and frankly, I didn’t want another. What I didn’t realize was that about six years hence, I would fire my then-agent and the experience would be lots worse than the divorce.

. . . .

Your editor might be nice, but the publishing company she works for is a corporation attached to a large international conglomerate. Whose attitudes do you think will triumph inside the corporation when it comes to dealing with your business relationship? Your nice, salaried editor’s or the corporate legal department’s? Your editor may be on the communication end of the contract negotiation, but you can bet cash money that she’s checking with legal before responding to your requests. She has to, or she’ll lose her job.

So, if something goes awry, your editor will not be able to help you. A lot of editors go dark when things go badly, and forward emails and paper communications directly to legal. Some editors try to maintain the relationship with their authors, only to lose their jobs in the process.

When it comes down to it, the business decision for the editor is pretty simple: Do I defend my author or do I keep the job that pays for my home and feeds my children?

. . . .

Imagining that these powerful people are protecting us is quite parental, isn’t it? And it’s flattering to think that our talent is so great that important people will do things for us so that we can concentrate on “what we’re good at.”

Only…they’re not doing these jobs for us. They’re doing the job for money. Agents get more than 15% for the work they do. Agents are only as powerful as their clients, so if they have powerful clients, the business grows. And many agents work hand in glove with publishers.

Agents run their own businesses, and again, that trumps anything they do for you. Given a choice between the good of the agency and the good of a single writer, they’ll choose the agency every time. (And so would you, if you were an agent.)

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Bruce for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

‘American Idol’ Winner Files Bold Legal Claim to Escape ‘Oppressive’ Contracts

27 January 2015

From The Hollywood Reporter:

For those who would give almost anything for a chance at superstardom, American Idolmight be the entertainment industry’s version of a Faustian bargain: Through 14 seasons, the very successful Fox show has exploited the fact that there are millions of singers who are willing to sign onerous deals for the chance to compete. But season 11 winner Phillip Phillips isn’t going to let the deals he made as a precursor to his fame go unchallenged.

On Jan. 22, Phillips lodged a bombshell petition with the California Labor Commissioner that asserts thatIdol producer 19 Entertainment and its affiliated companies have “manipulated” him into accepting jobs since he hit it big. In a filing that reveals some of Phillips’ post-show tribulations, including being forced to perform for free for one of Idol sponsors and not even knowing the title of his last album before it was announced publicly, the singer is seeking to void his various agreements with 19, said by the star’s lawyer to be “oppressive, fatally conflicted.”

“I am very grateful for the opportunities provided to me through appearing on American Idol,” says Phillips. “The value that the fans and the show have given to my career is not lost on me. However, I have not felt that I have been free to conduct my career in a way that I am comfortable with.  I look forward to being able to make my own choices about my career and to being able to make great music and play it for my fans.”

. . . .

Before Idol viewers voted him the winner [in 2012], Phillips signed a series of contracts governing his management, merchandising, recording and publishing. The deals are quite favorable to 19 Entertainment, a company founded by Simon Fuller that also produces other shows such as So You Think You Can Dance. For example, according to the complaint, when Phillips does endorsements, 19 gets as much as a 40 percent cut.

Link to the rest at The Hollywood Reporter and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

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