Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio June
The Law & the Planner
By Jonathan T. Howe,
SPEAKER AND ENTERTAINER CONTRACTS
The care and feeding and contracting of on-stage
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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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