The Legal Side: How Models Can Protect Themselves

You landed that last modeling job, now what?

New York and Los Angeles models have a few common questions when they first get in the business, specifically when it comes to legal matters. Before you sign that contract, here are a few tips to make sure that you are protected as a model.

Pay attention to your contract

There are a few types of modeling contracts: the exclusive contract, the non-exclusive contract, the one-time contract, and the mother agency contract. Each of these contracts have their own pros and cons, so look them over before you sign.

Exclusive contract

An exclusive contract means that the agency is your only manager, and you are not allowed to sign with others for the duration for as long as the document is still effective. To make sure that you won’t be tied with no modeling job during this time, make sure that you are signed with a reputable agency that can advance your career.

Non-exclusive contract

This second type, on the other hand, allows you to find work on your own, and you would not be required to pay the agency a commission for gigs that you booked without their help. This is more suited for you when you don’t have an agency that can afford to advance your initial costs that include building your portfolio and the like.

One-time contract

This type signs you on for one job—and one job—only. The contract is deemed fulfilled when the project is finished and that you have been paid. Otherwise, you can sue or be sued for breach of contract.

Mother agency contract

The fourth type, called the mother agency contract allows your agency to get a commission even after you are signed by another. In this type, the agency may be looking to sell your rights to a bigger agency or take a cut from your paychecks as often as they can. There is a lot of fine print when it comes to mother agencies, so it is imperative that you understand how they work.

To start off, mother agencies are usually given the standard 20 percent commission from a model’s work. However, it does not usually stop there. Many charge an additional 20 percent of the model’s fee from the employers, oftentimes just pocketing the amount without giving the model a share. As a form of compensation for the agency advancing the model payments without having to wait until the agency is paid, they can pocket a further 5 percent from the model.

Because of the mother agency clause, they can collect commissions on any modeling job one can ever obtain, even when the job is booked by a different agency.

Mother agencies are usually the first ones to discover models, so it is not a coincidence that they sign up models when they still have little money, so at this early stage is the ideal time to have an attorney look over the fine print.

Research the modeling agency

In a large market city like New York, reputable modeling agencies should be able to work and invest to train their new talents. That means they can advance monies against your earnings for your modeling portfolio, comp cards, test shoots, and the like. However, before you sign up with them, look over your own responsibilities as their client—you don’t want to find yourself in debt for work that they did not find for you.

In medium-sized markets, the agencies can direct you with regard to photos for your portfolio and composite, and even send you to the right direction for training. However, they may not be able to finance you for these things. If this is the case, it is better for you to research further on the modeling scene—will you be able to find adequate jobs in the city you are in?

In a small market, most agencies are those connected with modeling schools who may lure you into attending their classes. Research further in these instances, as they may not know what they are doing, or they may be seeking to profit from your lack of experience.

Contract validity

Contracts signed in the United States are usually valid in other countries. However, there can be some limits to which these things apply. Ensure that the contract states that it is governed by the law of a state in the United States, which is most convenient to you. For instance, make sure your contract is governed by California Laws when you are living in Los Angeles, not Connecticut or New York. Also make sure that the contract provides specifically that in the event of a dispute, any lawsuit, mediation, or arbitration should take place in your state to save costs.

Model release form

Most new models don’t have the confidence in demanding their rights when it comes to contracts, so in signing a model release form, make sure that there is a provision that can protect you from getting humiliated in the future. Do not sign away every right you have as a model In fact, restrict your photographer from using your images in ways other than it is actually intended. If you can’t alter the provisions of your contract, you can at least state in the margins that the photos may not be used on sexually explicit Web sites or pornographic materials.

Contract cancellation

There are four reasons to automatically cancel a contract: fraud, duress, illegality, and lack of age of consent. However, these defenses don’t usually come up unless a minor is involved and the contract was not signed by said minor’s parents or guardians.

On another note, there are also common ways that photographers can get into trouble, especially when it involves misuse of your images. This is why it is important that you take into consideration the rights you give away when signing a model release form—the broader the release you sign, the harder it is to assert defenses when you take your case to court.

Remember that as in any other job, you have to read the fine print. This could make or break your career as a model. The more you know, the more you can protect yourself, so read.