EDITORIAL: A Legal Minute: A little bit of the legal side of the biz you can read in a minute.
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For those my age and in that age vicinity, 1994 was an epic year for television. NBC was in its heyday, with Seinfeld, Mad About You, and a well received freshman comedy, Friends. I vividly remember being excited to get my homework done in time for a Thursday night of laughs, before we could DVR anything.
The six actors who made up the principal cast of Friends were relative no names at the time, although I vividly remember Courteney Cox in the “hit” film Masters of the Universe, starring Dolph Lundgren. As a matter of fact, Lisa Kudrow was first introduced to the mid 90’s crowd as Ursula in the series Mad About You. This character was later made the twin sister of Kudrow’s character, Phoebe, in Friends. Friends was a bigger break than the bit role in the Paul Reiser/Helen Hunt comedy, and with it came her fame and fortune.
That fame and fortune she realized was party due to her talent manager at the time, Scott Howard. Howard signed Kudrow to an oral contract to represent her in 1991. He had a role in her career up until they parted ways in 2007, and according to Howard, he is entitled to be paid on the the revenue Kudrow still sees from her Friends contract, to the tune of 5%.
One of the more interesting legal developments that happened this week was a recent court decision in California that keeps a lawsuit between Howard and Kudrow alive. Both have been mired in a legal battle over whether Howard should be paid since he parted ways with Kudrow in 2007. One contention he made was that it is customary for managers to continue to get paid after they have been fired, for work they helped to secure for their client.
For those of you who don’t remember, Kudrow and her cast-mates received substantial raises after Kudrow helped lead a contract negotiation for $100,000 an episode and a percentage of profits in the future just a few years into the series. Originally, Howard was entitled to 10% of her earnings until the contract was reformed in 2004. It is a significant sum as the percentage off of syndication and ancillary rights entitled Kudrow and her castmates a nice ongoing income.
A California appeals court decided that expert witness testimony should be allowed that would help Howard’s argument that he should be paid in perpetuity. This would be a monumental decision, and open the door for managers to collect more of the benefits of the work they put in to help clients succeed. This, however, is still just one step. While the testimony should be allowed in this case, ultimately we need to wait for a court decision to see if managers indeed will have this right under California law. And none too soon for them.
Roberto “R.C.” Rondero de Mosier is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, California, New York and Illinois. He is a partner at Gonzalez & Mosier Law PLLC. His practice specializes in Entertainment Law and Intellectual Property rights. In his spare time he enjoys watching television and films, and writing about it. Follow him on Twitter @showbizattorney, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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