June 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio June 2000 Current Issue
June 2000 lawandplan.gifPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

The Law & the Planner

By Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.


The care and feeding and contracting of on-stage artists

Stories about speakers and entertainers and their quirky needs abound. Some have provisions that they can cancel without any liability to you should they get a more important or higher-paying gig. Others might require certain perks, like Evian water at 55.5 degrees (true story).

As times change, though, so do contract terms. The bottom line with talent is, if you want them to do something (or not), make sure you have it in writing.

One thing to be concerned about is the content of the program. Responsibility should be placed on the presenter to adhere strictly to the sponsor’s guidelines. While some will require an up-front deposit, you should delineate the refund you will get for nonperformance.

Recent court decisions indicate the sponsoring organization could be liable if the speaker infringes on copyrighted material, or makes defamatory or misleading remarks, or the material is negligently presented. To protect the organization, the contract should have an indemnity clause that holds it harmless for any comments made by any speaker or entertainer, no matter whether they are performing for free or being paid. (See “Talk is Cheap; Litigation Isn’t,” The Law and the Planner, June 1998.)

When dealing with celebrities, some of the ancillary benefits include arranging a photo session with the star and having him mingle with VIPs. These must be put in the contract; otherwise, don’t count on it. You will probably have to pay extra for these privileges.

If the person has written a current book, you might want to have her autograph copies at a signing ceremony; again, put it in writing. Also, be prepared to pay (or charge attendees) for the books.

If the speaker’s contract limits audio or video taping of the presentation, or the reproduction of his materials get permission to reproduce, distribute and sell the tapes.

A planner recently told me about a speaker coming to a meeting in Europe. His flight was canceled, so he hopped aboard the Concorde at a considerable cost. The planner had to pay for the ticket because the contract said expenses would be paid to get the speaker to the location in time to do the program. It would have been better to contractually require that he arrive a day or so early.

For events outside the United States, immigration and customs laws may limit a person’s ability to enter the country if she is to be compensated. Be sure someone has handled the issue of work permits for presenters.

Also, make it clear the talent is responsible for immigration and customs issues that involve her presentation. Collateral materials might have to clear customs well in advance of the program. Shift the responsibility to the presenter to make sure the appropriate permits and licenses are in place and the support materials are sent out in time.

Presentations using music add complications. In the United States, the sponsor is responsible for acquiring licenses for the public performance of copyrighted music. Offshore, more often the venue will be responsible. Find out the details in advance if music will be involved.

On-stage talent is a delicate species. Contracts should be carefully evaluated and cover all of your key interests.

A reputable speakers’ bureau smooths the whole process. It has a well-prepared contract on hand, which you should evaluate closely. Also, the bureau has resources to find a replacement if the contracted player cancels at the 11th hour. The event will go on as planned with a different but equally valuable speaker.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality law. Legal questions can be e-mailed to him at

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