Britney Spears, Conservatorships and Controlling Your Career
With all the breaking headlines surrounding Britney Spears and her father’s control over her career, any musician may be wondering if something like this could happen to them in their career. The short answer: no. The Britney Spears legal battle has nothing to do with music or contracts within the music industry. Instead, the dispute is over something called a “conservatorship” which deals with mental incapacity (more on that below).
There are scenarios, however, where you could give up too much control or decision-making authority over your career if you’re not careful. Time and time again we’ve seen major artists exploited by managers or other trusted parties in their life because they granted them too much power over their career without enough oversight.
In this newsletter you will learn:
· The basics of conservatorships and how they specifically relate to Britney Spears
· Power of Attorney provisions and their effect in personal management agreements;
· Real-life examples of managers misusing the authority granted to them by their artists;
What is a conservatorship?
In the event that someone is unable to manage their property or finances due to issues such as mental incapacity, physical illness, disability, or chronic use of alcohol and/or drugs, a “conservator” or guardian may be named by a court to have authority over an individuals decisions. Conservatorships are most commonly found to assist the elderly.
Britney Spears was placed under a conservatory with her father in 2008 following her public breakdown in 2007. The conservatorship was granted due to her struggles with mental illness and alcohol abuse, placing her father, Jamie Spears, in control of her finances and all decisions surrounding her career. Of course, Spears’ conservatorship is highly controversial given just how much power her father has over Spears, even to the extent (per her recent testimony) of not permitting her to give birth to another child if she so chooses.
Could something like this happen with your career?
As previously mentioned, conservatorships address mental incapacity (among other disabilities) and are not specifically related to the music industry. However, musicians should be wary of other ways they can (1) lose control over their own decision-making power in their career and/or (2) grant others too much power to make decisions or handle finances. The most common situation when this happens is when a “power of attorney” or “POA” is included in a contract. A POA allows another party to act on your behalf for a particular action or actions. For example, if I could not be present to sign documents to purchase my house, I could sign a POA to allow my wife (or anyone else for that matter) to sign the documents for me on my behalf. The POA, in this instance, would be limited solely to the scope of the purchase and not for any other action on my behalf.
In the music industry, POA’s can be found within any contract, but are typically found in personal management or business management agreements. When reviewing a POA in an agreement it is important to understand just how much authority a POA gives another party. The POA provision will not allow the manager to purchase your house (hopefully), but I have seen it extend as far and as broad as the following:
Allow the signing of contracts on the artist’s behalf;
Allow access and control over the artist’s bank account;
Allow the manager to receive, collect and distribute artist’s funds;
Authorize any and all publicity of the artist;
If you are signing with a new personal manager you have not worked with before, you may not feel comfortable granting this type of broad authority. Of course, every relationship is different and trust is built over years of working with one another. The lesson in this article is to be aware of the POA provisions so you are comfortable with the authority you are granting to someone else.
Even the biggest stars have had issues arise after granting too much authority to their trusted managers. For example, in 1989 Billy Joel sued his former manager, Frank Weber, for $90 million for fraud and breach of financial duty. Double-billings, loans given without Joel’s knowledge, and misrepresentation of statements left Joel’s finances in disarray. This seems outrageous, but it all came about due to the fact that in the 1980 contract signed between the two allowed Weber “complete managerial control” and power of attorney. Billy Joel is not the only one. Leonard Cohen’s ex-manager was sentenced to eighteen months in jail after stealing money from him. Lou Pearlman (discoverer of Backstreet Boys and N’SYNC) took money from the Backstreet Boys and put it into a Ponzi scheme before he was imprisoned for twenty-five years. Alanis Morissette’s manager siphoned off almost $4 million over a span of four years before being sued by Morissette.
It is important to first understand what authority is granted in every agreement you are signing. You must then be diligent in ensuring your finances and paperwork is in order at all times. The common phrase “trust but verify” comes to mind.
Colin is the founder of Whiskey Ghost Entertainment Law based in Nashville, TN. Colin has represented independent musicians, record labels and publishers with a wide array of representation including the drafting, review and negotiation of record/publishing deals, distribution and band agreements. He has also assisted in the formation of LLC’s, trademark registration and much more. If you have a legal question, please don’t hesitate to email Colin at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 615-721-2233.
This article does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and me. Your use of this website is intended for general information purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. You should not act upon any information contained on this website without seeking professional counsel, licensed to practice in your jurisdiction for a particular problem.