21 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2005
A "morals clause" allows advertisers, television networks, and movie studios to terminate a talent agreement when an actor's conduct is detrimental to the buyer's interests, or otherwise devalues the performance due. In the 1950's, these clauses were infamously used by Hollywood studios to fire suspected communists and uniformly upheld by courts. Today, the morals clause remains a standard term in advertising, motion picture, and television talent agreements.
There is a great deal of criticism, uncertainty and misinformation about the morals clause: it is thought to be historically reprehensible, legally unenforceable and ambiguously drafted. Meanwhile, attorneys and agents negotiating talent deals constantly encounter the morals clause, and it often becomes a point of negotiation between the parties. This article seeks to explore the history and value of the morals clause, reaffirm the enforceability of an express morals clause, and introduce the legal basis for an implied morals clause, breach of which is also just cause for termination. Finally, in an Appendix, numerous examples of the morals clause are presented and deconstructed, and elements compared and analyzed, in an effort to aid the practitioner in drafting an effective morals clause.
Keywords: talent, celebrity, contract, morals, morality, clause, hollywood, actor, television, film, movies, motion pictures, agreement, employee
JEL Classification: K12, M37, M50, L82
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Kressler, Noah B., Using the Morals Clause in Talent Agreements: A Historical, Legal, and Practical Guide. Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts, Vol. 29. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=869302