From Here to When? Contracts for the Future

“That wasn’t me, the production company just edited me that way.” If you’re a fan of reality TV shows such as “The Biggest Loser,” “Top Chef,” “The Amazing Race,” and so on, you’ve probably heard this phrase from at least one contestant.

Just watching the show you might not know, but when they signed the contract they had to sign something that may have included this: "From the beginning of time, across the universe, and for all perpetuity?" Even a third-year law student might have trouble decoding this phrase!

Years ago, contracts didn’t include references to "media", "the universe", or "electronically" within their terms. Today, however, there’s an increasing trend to include such language. Expect to see more, not less, of this novel type of language in even routine contracts such as rental agreements.

Contracts in Space, Time, and Place

TV show contestants are often asked to sign away the rights by signing contracts that have terms such as "edited, in all media, throughout the universe, in perpetuity." They’ll likely lose if they sue if the editing resulted in an unflattering portrayal.  

Entertainment lawyers point out that these terms are standard in the industry, and realistic given the continuing advances in technology. After all, tomorrow's astronauts may want to catch an episode while aboard their spacecraft. New communication forms, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs defy traditional concepts of place and time.

Don’t Interpret Contract Language on Your Own

One Pittsburgh newspaper editor signed a release form before appearing on a news talk show allowing the station to make use of any incidents of his life and to reproduce his image or voice throughout the universe in perpetuity.

The editor admitted that he didn’t read the release carefully before signing, but shrugged it off, noting that he though he’s probably quite popular in the far-off parts of the galaxy.

Contract terms such as this might seem too far-fetched to worry about. However, if you’re signing away rights to the use of your artistic or musical works, inventions, or ideas, be sure that you have an attorney review the contract first.

Beware of contracts requiring upfront payment for your work, or provide minimal or contingent compensation. It could be worthwhile to have an attorney review a contract before you agree to its terms. Legal work could be done on a "limited representation" basis, a flat fee or limited hourly fee for a service such as contract review.

When Can a Contract be Invalid?

Persons under age 18, or under a legal disability (such as lacking mental capacity) are unable by law to enter into contracts on their own. Thus, any contract involving such a person would be viewed as invalid.

If a person has been induced by fraud or undue influence or coercion to sign a contract, it may be canceled. Many states have a Consumer Fraud Act guarding against the harsh consequences of such contracts.

Even with electronic age considerations added to many contracts, basic contract principles continue to provide some protection for consumers. Time will tell how judges and juries interpret these new "galactic" contract terms, as their validity is tested in courts across the country.

Question For Your Attorney

  • I signed a contract that I now want to get out of. Is there a way that I can get out of this contract with minimal loss?
  • What are the terms that I should look out for before signing a contract?
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