Recent High-Profile Talent Agreement Lawsuits

An increasing number of high-profile on-camera talent lawsuits alleging breach of contract is resulting in scrutiny of the business practices of Netflix and Disney.

Carole Baskin vs Netflix and Royal Goode Productions

Carole Baskin and her husband, recently sued Netflix and “Tiger King 2” production company Royal Goode Productions for breach of contract. In the lawsuit, the Baskins alleged that because they had only signed appearance release forms for the first “Tiger King” documentary, Royale Goode Productions was guilty of breach of contract for also using footage of them in “Tiger King 2”. According to the complaint filed with the court in Tampa, FL, the Baskins alleged they were not only misled on the subject matter of the documentary but also harshly and unfairly depicted. The heart of the lawsuit however hinged on the signed appearance releases. According to the complaint the Baskins had an:

“Understanding that the Appearance Releases limited Royal Goode Productions’ use of the footage of the Baskins and Big Cat Rescue to the single, initial documentary motion picture, the Baskins believed that any sequel — though odious — would not include any of their footage.”

On September 25, 2021, Netflix released a “Tiger King 2” promotional trailer that included footage acquired by Royal Goode Productions during the first “Tiger King” documentary and depicting the Baskins as the focus of the sequel. The Baskins claimed the footage used in “Tiger King 2” would cause irreparable injury and sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the footage from being used:

“By utilizing the film footage of the Baskins and Big Cat Rescue secured by Royal Goode Productions under the Appearance Releases in “sizzle reels” and promotional trailers for the sequel entitled Tiger King 2, the Defendants are in breach of the terms of the Appearance Releases.”

The U.S. District Court denied the Baskins their request. According to the ruling:

“… the Court merely finds that the Baskins are not entitled to the extraordinary remedy of a temporary restraining order, which would be entered before Defendants have had an adequate opportunity to respond…The Court takes no position on whether the Baskins will be able to establish entitlement to a preliminary injunction.”

Tiger King 2 is streaming now on Netflix. The documentary includes footage of Carole Baskin from the original Tiger King as well as footage from her video diaries which are publicly available.

Scarlett Johansson vs Disney

In another high-profile lawsuit, Scarlett Johansson alleged her talent contract was breached when Disney simultaneously released “Black Widow” on its streaming service Disney+, despite guaranteeing Marvel an exclusive theatrical release. The complaint alleged that by releasing the movie simultaneously on the Disney+ streaming service and in theaters, Disney was able to promote its subscription service and that Disney’s move

“…not only increased the value of Disney+, but it also intentionally saved Marvel (and thereby itself) what Marvel itself referred to as ‘very large box office bonuses’ that Marvel otherwise would have been obligated to pay Ms. Johansson.”

On July 11,2021, Disney announced that in addition to the $370 million “Black Widow” earned at the box office, it also earned $60 million via the Disney+ Premier Access transactional video on demand service. Shortly thereafter, Scarlett Johannson filed a lawsuit arguing that “the streaming release of the Marvel movie breached her contract and deprived her of potential earnings.”

Johansson and Disney recently settled her breach of contract lawsuit, although the terms of the settlement were not disclosed. According to reports several other high-profile actors are also considering filing similar lawsuits.

Legal Expertise Crucial for Drafting Talent Agreements

Both the Baskin and Johansson lawsuits have called attention to how talent agreements are crafted to benefit the studios, networks, and streaming services. In the pre-streaming past, producers were able to influence in-demand talent to take back-end structured profit participation deals that could pay off for decades instead of taking hefty upfront fees for their acting services. However, the ever-expanding technological breakthroughs in the distribution and delivery of viewing content has made backend structured compensation deals increasingly unfair to talent. Backend revenue streams have mostly vanished along with the pre-streaming back-end loaded talent profit participation deals.

The goal of a properly drafted talent agreement is to avoid time-consuming and costly lawsuits due to unclear terms and provide both sides with a successful and satisfying outcome. It is vital for in-demand talent to have legal representation that is knowledgeable regarding the technological advancements in the distribution of motion picture content, has expertise in recognizing loopholes and the ability to draft agreements that capture revenue streams from all of the various viewing and motion picture delivery systems and platforms.

To learn more about how we can help you structure or negotiate the terms of your agreement, or our services in other entertainment law matters, please contact a lawyer online or call 310–473–3500.



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Brian J. Murphy

Entertainment, Intellectual Property, Internet, New Media and Sports Law Group.