Get it in writing!
This is probably the most effective and straightforward piece of legal advice you can get – get it in writing!
This is true regardless of what stage of your career you are at, or even what industry you are in – as soon as you enter into agreements with other people, and rely on them professionally, it is always advisable to get your agreement in writing.
This is especially true for those working in the creative industries, where you are so often expected to work for free, or told that “I’ll pay you when we start making money”.
People often don’t appreciate that as an artist, musician, model or performer, it is ultimately your livelihood at stake. Unfortunately, this sometimes means that it is your responsibility to ensure that you do not get caught out, and end up with nothing more than vague promises and ‘verbal agreements’ which you can’t rely on when you need to.
“In writing” doesn’t mean “full contract”
People often assume that “getting something in writing” means having a full, long contract drafted by a lawyer – this is not true.
When I say ‘get it in writing’, this can mean anything as long as it is documented, and you can refer back to it in a few months or years if needed.
This includes emails, WhatsApp messages, Instagram DMs… you name it. If you tend to change/lose phones regularly, make sure you save screenshots of important conversations to the cloud, or email them to yourself.
Whenever discussing payment, and other key obligations – for example what is expected of you, when/where you are expected to show up, and what exactly it is you are asked to do – make sure you have a copy in writing saved somewhere. This might make your life easier if you ever find yourself in a “that was never the deal” or “but you said you would pay me X” type conversation.
Follow-up your conversations
Sometimes you will just have a conversation on the phone or in person, which makes it more difficult to keep a record of what was said.
The way around this is to follow up your conversations in writing. This way, you will have some sort of record for later on if you do need to refer back.
For example, if you agree payment and other terms on the phone or on skype, just follow up with an email or WhatsApp message saying something like “just to confirm what we discussed…” or “as we agreed on the phone…” etc.
Prevention is better than cure
Getting things in writing is not something which only becomes relevant if a working relationship breaks down and you need evidence to show a lawyer. Often, merely asking to get things in writing, or following up by email/text will start a more detailed conversation, and both parties can really think about how they want to work together.
Sometimes, getting these issues out in the open early on ensure that you don’t have any misunderstandings in the first place, which of course saves everyone time and money – not to mention unpleasant conversations.
Getting legal advice
Sometimes this informal approach is just not enough. When there are serious amounts of money involved, or serious obligations and commitments, you will need to ensure that your rights are adequately protected before you enter into an agreement.
In some situations it is perfectly normal to insist on getting a contract drawn up. Remember, if this allows you to prevent disagreements and litigation further down the line, this will prove to be a very good investment.
People are often concerned and may even lose you the work. Ultimately, you want to work with people who respect you and your rights – and sometimes that just means getting a full contract drawn up and agreed between the parties. In some cases, suggesting and insisting on this will even gain you more respect as it merely shows that you know your rights and are prepared to protect them.
More often than not, in the creative industries you will be given a contract to sign, and won’t have much input – it will look like a “take it or leave it” situation.
Whether this is true or not, I will say this: never sign a contract without understanding what it says. Even if the terms are so rigid that there is no room for negotiation (which is rarer that you may think) if the contract is for a serious amount of money, or if you are signing away a substantial part of your work, you should always insist on getting independent legal advice, which means getting your own lawyer.
Even if this is just to talk you through the contract and explain what it is you are signing, this will always be money well spent as it may save you thousands of pounds and hours of trouble down the line.
If you have any questions on your contracts, or would like to advice on a proposed deal and don’t fully understand what you are being asked to sign, get in touch!
Written by Joshua Schuermann