Modeling Contract

Many models face legal questions revolving around modeling contract and model releases. The Models Observer has contacted the Law Firm of Sebastian Gibson to supply you with tips on how to deal with the leagal aspects of modeling.
Attorney Sebastian Gibson was educated in California and Wales and has been a practicing international lawyer for over 25 years, having practiced in England.

Author: California Lawyer Sebastian Gibson / for Models Observer
May 2007

1. What are the things I should pay attention to when signing a modeling contract?

First, let me say that the Law Offices of R. Sebastian Gibson represents only models and not photographers or agents. Therefore, my responses to these questions are how I would advise a model only and are somewhat partial toward models.

This is a tough one to answer briefly. A model should have an experienced attorney look over any modeling contract before signing it, especially your first contract, but if you don’t have the money for an attorney or can’t find one experienced in reviewing this type of contract, here are some pointers. There are primarily four types of modeling contracts out there. With an exclusive contract, the agency is your exclusive manager and booking agency and you will not be allowed to sign with any other agency for the length of the contract. Therefore, as discussed below, make sure you are signing with a reputable agency that can advance your career and not an agency that will simply tie you up for an extended period of time and do little for you.

A non-exclusive contract allows you to find work on your own without the requirement that you pay the agency a commission. You may also sign other non-exclusive contracts with other agencies. If the agency you are meeting with does not have the money to advance your initial costs of building a portfolio and the like, this type of contract is better suited for you.

A one-time contract is one that is signed for just one job and one job only. When the project is complete, the contract has been fulfilled as long as you have also been paid. If you have not been paid, you can sue for breach of contract.

A fourth type of contract is a mother agency contract. This type of contract allows your agency to receive a commission even after you are signed by a subsequent agency. In this type of agreement, the agency may simply be looking to sell your rights to a bigger agency and still take a cut. However, they may even be a reputable agency, but one seeking to make every cent they can from their discovery of you.

To understand how a mother agency contract works, you need to understand a little bit about how agencies are paid, and this is one of the key provisions of your contract. It is common for top-rated agencies to charge 20% commission on all monies a model receives for his or her work. Only a small percentage of very successful models over the years have been allowed by the agencies to reduce the agency commission to 15% and an even smaller percentage of very successful models have been allowed to negotiate their own contracts with their own managers and lawyers.

On top of the standard 20% commission, it has been alleged in a class-action lawsuit that some agencies have routinely charged an additional 20% of the model’s fee for the job to the model’s employers and then pocketed that 20% without giving any of it to the model. In addition, in compensation for the agency advancing the model his or her payments without having to wait until the agency is actually paid by the model’s employers, the agencies have often charged a further 5% commission to the model. Now you know how agencies make money. The good ones, however, may be worth every cent.

The mother agency contract, however, further contains a provision whereby the agency claims a commission on any modeling job the model ever obtains, even if that job is obtained by another agency. This is similar to where a scout discovers a model and obtains a percentage (often 5%) of the model’s earnings from the agency the scout directs the model to. A mother agency is often the first one that discovers a model. It is no coincidence that at the time when the model has the least amount of money and the least clout, that a model needs to have an attorney reviewing the model’s contracts.

Next, as discussed above, you need to research the modeling agency from whom you are being offered a contract. In a large market city such as New York, a reputable model agency should have the work and the money to invest in you to train you. That means they will advance the monies against your future earnings for a quality portfolio, composite cards, test shoots and the like. This is an important part of the contract and you need to understand what you will be responsible to repay. You do not want to be owing the agency money if you or they do not find you work and payment for your work.

In a medium sized market, the agency may be able to direct you where to go for photos for your portfolio, training and composites, but they may not be financially able to advance you the costs. If you wind up paying for these items, you need to ensure that the agency you are signing with and the city you are in can provide a sufficient amount of work to get you reimbursed for these costs.

In a small market (as well as larger ones) you may find agencies who are connected with modeling schools. Some of these agencies may simply be a hook to lure you into attending the modeling school. Be wary of such an agency that may either have no idea what they are doing or who seek to profit from your inexperience by profiting from every expense you will be directed to incur.

You want to read carefully the sections of any contract that provide what constitutes a breach of contract by you or the other party and what remedies or damages the parties are entitled to in the event of a breach. If the only person who can breach a contract is you, and if you are the only person who may owe anyone money in the event of a breach, run away as fast as you can.

2. Is a modeling contract signed in the United States valid in other countries?

This question is easy. Yes, it is valid. A contract, however, can limit it’s terms or the geographical area (countries) to which it applies. In addition, you should ensure that the contract states that it is governed by the law of the state in the U.S. that is most convenient to you. If you live in Phoenix, you don’t want it governed by the law of North Dakota, much less the law of China, because you will be all but ensuring that to get your day in court, you will have to file suit in some far off jurisdiction. The contract should provide that in the event of any dispute in connection with the contract that either a lawsuit or mediation or arbitration shall take place in your state. If you want to save some costs, provide that the parties shall mediate or arbitrate any disputes. If you think you are always going to be in the right, then also provide that the prevailing party shall be entitled to any costs and attorney fees. If you don’t provide for that, you will not be entitled to be reimbursed for your attorney's fees and costs, even if you win the mediation, arbitration or litigation.

Part 2: Model Release, cancellation of Modeling Contract