A California law firm is using an often ignored part of CA labor law to go after photographers, producers and advertising agencies. On the website for the Muse Law Group under the heading Model Rights they state that:

Under California Law, actors, as well as print and commercial models are considered employees, which means they are protected under the same labor laws as any other employees. Yet the entertainment industry frequently treats the talent differently from other employees, or does not treat the talent as employees at all, routinely violating California’s wage laws. For example, in California, actors must be paid on the first pay period following the completion of the actor’s work; and print models must be paid on the last day of the shoot, even if the work lasts only one day.

They go on to say that failing to pay on the last day of employment results in a penalty equal to the average daily wage times the number of days it took to be paid with a maximum penalty of 30 days. In other words, a model you paid $1000 for 1 day of work, but waited 31 or more days to pay could be owed $30,000.

From what I understand the labor code they cite, California state labor code section 200-243, was created to protect migrant workers who are often hired and then released/fired. Seems reasonable except most businesses working with vendors and talent usually pay in 30 days (absurdly longer if you’re a magazine). I’ve been told by several sources that the law firm has sent out demand letters and there’s a rumor they are posting on forums like model mayhem to attract clients.

The California APA sent an email out to its members last night explaining what is happening and advising them that according to a lawyer they spoke with, to the best of their knowledge, there has been no legal decision made on the argument the demand letters are making.  The firm is hoping to settle, which is also indicated on their website where they say “We settle 95% of our cases without the need for court intervention.”

The CA APA goes on to say that you should contact a lawyer if you have been threatened with a claim. They also note that with talent that is represented by an agency the payment must go to the agency where there is a 30 day  re-disbursement of funds. Apparently the real danger is non agency represented talent who must be paid at the end of their shoot under CA labor law. Obviously, talent agencies that want to continue their relationship with photographers, producers and agencies are not going to do much about this, so I believe the real danger is with un-represented talent.

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  1. I’m probably wrong on this, but in the long run, could this be seen as a good thing? If it is a state law to pay the labor on the last day of work, couldn’t photographers then demand an advance from the clients to cover these expenses? It would seem mandatory, and I don’t see how clients could argue.

    • Unfortunately, no. Many clients are not willing to front all of this money to follow the CA Labor Code, which forces the photographer or producer to dig into his/her own pocket to avoid being sued. This places undue burdens on the photographer/producer as it can take them 30-60 days to get reimbursed. A demand for a 100% advance could threaten an often delicate relationship between Photographer and Client… :(

  2. In theory, it sounds like they’re looking out for people, but it’s another money grab to try and stop the downward California $piral. They’re out of control. Abandon ship.

  3. This is a story that was first posted 19 days ago in the LinkedIn Group – Producers Talk, started by producer Inna Khavinson, under the heading:
    ‘Has anyone heard of producers having to pay talent extra fees due to some loophole about talent having to be paid within 3 days of job, or talent is entitled to ten times their fee?’

    During the course of the discussion it has also been noted that a similar law exists in New York and this ‘Payment last consecutive day’ law may extend to all production crew members as well.

  4. I wonder if this would have any relevance to photographers who sign work made for hire contracts.

  5. Of course it doesn’t say anything about the rights of the photographer who may have to wait 60-90 days to be paid by the client.

    • My thoughts exactly.

    • or the makeup and hair artist that sometimes have to wait a couple of month and email once a week to get a paycheck… and we are talking about the client beeing a Agency.

  6. Very interesting post. The vast majority of labor and employment lawsuits are settled out of court. Nevertheless, this post is a unique reminder to employers to check the “employee” status of their workforce.

  7. it sounds like the law firms that sue small business owners for not having proper handicap access. they make money by asking for a settlement rather than going the full court process, which bankrupts the small business owner.

    • Many small businesses are exempt from handicap access laws

      • Private & Non-profit Businesses

        State and federal law give people with disabilities the right to access everyday activities such as buying an item at the store, watching a movie in a theater, enjoying a meal at a restaurant, exercising at the health club and getting their car serviced.

        If you own, operate, or lease to a business that serves the public you are subject to the ADA and other disability rights laws.

  8. We’ve made it a standing policy to ask for an advance of 100% of the booking invoice (based on the quote), or request our talent are paid the day of their shoot (and we bill our fees NET30 in that case). 95% of our projects (Fortune 500 clients) have agreed to one or the other.
    I’d have to agree this seems like a blatant cash grab by bored attorneys but paying talent, and crew IMO, quickly (day of or shortly thereafter) has yielded great results for our clients, talent and us.
    While it’s subjective, paying talent and crew quickly seems to make them more motivated, attentive and prompt. Bird in the hand and all that? Objectively, in 5 years of serving models, actors and real people to still shoots all over the country, we’ve only had 1 occasion where we had to substitute a model at the last minute.
    When large clients force photographers, and by proxy their production crew and talent, to be the bank (and essentially extend credit by subjugation), it’s always the lowest end of the labor spectrum that bears the burden. For our business, pushing hard for an advance on the front end of the project has eliminated lots of headaches post-wrap.

  9. Star, is that you?

  10. A Beverly Hills lawyer went on a fishing expedition after us and our client(!) recently ($25K+ in model fees) and the CA Bureau of Labor went to bat for us. Which was great especially as we are not based in CA.
    The law firm is apparently a known bottom feeder and the talent agent of just one model on the shoot was, we were told, likely counting on some sort of commission from the shyster if they prevailed.


    • Hi West Coast Jim,

      Can you please tell us the facts of your particular case? It would really help us figure out if we can apply the standards issued in your case to any that might be on the horizon for us. We have heard of these sinister law firms going after producers and photographers and our clients, and are looking to preemptively defend ourselves.


  11. That’s an interesting law, since every time I have left a job of my own accord or finished a project I didn’t get my paycheck until the next pay period. The one time I did get fired I got paid that same day.

  12. I got the APA e-mail and after carefully digesting the content, I came to the conclusion, this doesn’t really affect those who use reputable talent agencies. What does come to mind is that a cockroach that ran out food one place and is now exploring new sources (where there is one there are a hundred more).

  13. Another parasite law firm. There are too many lawyers, and too many law firms. The lesser law firms can’t get enough clients and have to succumb to parasite law suits like this. This is bad for everybody involved, including the talent.

  14. Economy is really bad so everyone is trying to squeeze some bucks out of others. Being a full time model and forget about the your future is the worst you can do to your self. First you need to be able to afford to be a model and actor.

  15. Scumbag attorney(s) going for a money grab. Ugh.

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