Morality clauses and talent contracts

As the year draws to a close, most of us will think back on the people and events that shaped 2017. Considered by many to have been one of the biggest stories of the year, it would be difficult to ignore the social (and legal) discourse surrounding the more than forty high-profile men caught in sexual misconduct scandals.

Last month, Netflix removed Kevin Spacey from its hit show House of Cards after Spacey was accused of sexual misconduct. However, Spacey claims Netflix cannot legally fire him because his contract did not contain a morality clause. Similarly, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s employment agreement may have only a very “loose” morals clause that does not allow for his termination, so long as he pays contractual fines and any costs incurred by his company due to his behavior.

A morality clause is a contractual provision that gives a party (usually a company) the unilateral right to terminate the agreement, or take punitive action against the other party (the “talent,” which is usually an individual whose endorsement or image is sought) in the event that such other party engages in reprehensible behavior or conduct that may negatively impact his or her public image and, by association, the public image of the contracting company (source).

The price of talent: new California law seeks to address gender pay gap

“I knew I was being paid less and I still agreed to do American Hustle because the option comes down to do it, or don’t do it. So you just have to decide if it’s worth it for you. It doesn’t mean I liked it.” — Amy Adams

From January 2018, employers in California will be prohibited from asking job applicants about their previous pay.  Guidance for the new Labor Code 432.3 states “closing the wage gap starts with barring employers from asking questions about salary history, so that previous salary discrimination is not perpetuated.” If asked to do so, employers must also provide the “pay scale” for the position being filled. The Code does not prohibit applicants from volunteering their salary history, nor does it prohibit an employer from using that information to determine their offer.

How does this compare with equal pay laws in England? Before the Equal Pay Act 1970 and Sex Discrimination Act 1975, businesses did not hide the fact that men and women who performed the same job could be paid different wages, or that certain lower-paid jobs were explicitly reserved for women. The current legislation, the Equality Act 2010, states that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work, as prescribed by Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Film workers’ rights to be restored as New Zealand announces repeal of controversial “Hobbit Law”

Has New Zealand been too friendly towards Hollywood, at the expense of its own workforce? New Zealand’s incoming Labour Government promises to restore certain employment protections for film cast and crew, by repealling the controversial “Hobbit Law” within the next 100 days.

New Zealand is famous for being film-friendly. Gorgeous landscapes provide dramatic settings not far from the city comforts, and generous financial incentives are available in the form of government grants. Since the 1990s in particular, the country’s film and television industry has participated in many large, complex international productions: such films include The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings franchises, The Chronicles of Narnia, the 2005 King Kong remake, Avatar, District 9, The Lovely Bones, and – a personal favourite of mine – The Piano (pictured above). 

Earlier this year, Statistics NZ announced that the country’s screen industry revenue had increased to $3.3 billion in 2016, with film production revenue doubling to more than $1 billion. In addition to direct revenues, film and television content also promotes and enhances New Zealand’s “national brand,” with many tourists visiting the country specifically because of what they’ve seen on screen.

But has New Zealand been too friendly towards Hollywood, at the expense of its own workforce? New Zealand’s so-called “Hobbit Law” came into force in 2010 as a direct result of actors on Peter Jackson’s film The Hobbit threatening industrial action. Warner Brothers’ Studio suggested it would retaliate by relocating the US $500m production elsewhere, with Jackson mentioning the possibility of filming in Eastern Europe instead. To keep The Hobbit in New Zealand, Parliament passed the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill 2010 to limit screen industry workers’ rights.