A Legal Minute: A little bit of the legal side of the biz you can read in a minute.
The X-Employee of X-Factor
How valuable is it for a U.K. celebrity to have a following in the United States? Well, I think bands from the Beatles to the Spice Girls would argue that the opportunity to reach into the U.S. and the opportunity to expose themselves to our market is invaluable. In the television and film space the story is the same. So much so, that English actors from Laurence Olivier to Ricky Gervais have earned riches by bringing their talents to American audiences.
Now, raise your hand if you know who Cheryl Cole is…..anyone? In case you are not familiar with British pop music, Cheryl Cole actually has quite a following, as a former member of the girl band, Girls Aloud, and judge on the British version of X-Factor. Unfortunately for her career, not many Americans have been introduced to her talents.
Recently Cole made news by filing a lawsuit against X-Factor USA, a Simon Cowell (another U.K.’er we have embraced) import, for money she was promised in a contract that was terminated prior to a promised two-year stint as a judge for the American version of X-Factor. Prior to this, Cole had been a judge on three seasons of X-Factor U.K. and impressively built on her career.
Cole was reportedly released by X-Factor USA when there were concerns her accent would be difficult to understand and she would not connect with American audiences. For her trouble, she was paid the value of a year of the contract. Seems like a very nifty pay out for someone who did not have to actually do any work on the show. However, according to court filings, Cole claims she entered a “pay or play” contract that spanned two seasons worth of salary ($1.8 million year one and $2 million year two), along with expenses (including a $100,000 wardrobe allowance, a $25,000 stylist allowance, $15,000 per month for a hotel or apartment in L.A. and a $2,500-per-month living allowance).
So what exactly is a “pay or play” contract? A pay-or-play contract is a contract in which one party agrees to perform and the other agrees to pay for the promised performance. The second party agrees to pay even without demanding a performance. Such contracts are not unusual in the entertainment industry. What is unusual here, though, is that such a lawsuit is being filed after Cole received such a handsome payout (salary for the first season) for only a few weeks of work. X-Factor USA lawyers will no doubt claim that an equitable argument can be made that the money Cole received was more than fair compensation for having her contract terminated so quickly. Thus, Cole’s case is not exactly a slam-dunk.
So why file suit? Money of course, but I think even more so it’s about the lost opportunity to market oneself in the United States, which quite possibly could have made Cheryl Cole a household name here and afforded her even more money-making opportunities.
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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