How much will a publisher pay for rights to shoot at your house?
June 21, 2011 4:48 PM   Subscribe

I am in a unique situation. A celebrity rented my house as a residence and used it for commercial purposes under the auspices that she was owner of the home. Aside from tv usage, it has also recently come to my attention that my home has been featured prominently in a New York Times Best Selling book. My partner and I are going 'round and 'round about this. He says we should just settle with the production and publishing company directly ourselves, and that an entertainment attorney would milk it for all it's worth, leaving us with less than if we were to negotiate with the companies directly. I know about film and television. However, I know NOTHING about the publishing industry, or how much an owner would get paid for prominent coverage in the second of a two-part best-selling series of books. Does anyone by any chance have any clue where or how we could procure this information? Also, please weigh, or no attorney?
posted by zagyzebra to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
How did it get used in the books, exactly? Are the books fiction? Non-fiction? Are they using photos or is it a textual setting?
posted by headspace at 4:50 PM on June 21, 2011

Yeah, more info please.
posted by amro at 4:53 PM on June 21, 2011

Attorney, ideally a friend or family member who can sketch out some reasonable expectations for you for a low price or free.

You don't even know where to begin your research which is a pretty good indicator that you're out of your depth.

Of course you can always just see what they will offer you for a settlement and if it's okay with you, then you can take it. You might not know whether you're getting screwed, but on the other hand, it will probably be less stressful as long as you can let it go post-settlement.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:57 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Did you have a contract? Did your contract prohibit using the space commercially?
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:03 PM on June 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

You need a lawyer.

However, I know NOTHING about the publishing industry, or how much an owner would get paid for prominent coverage in the second of a two-part best-selling series of books.

A good lawyer (probably, as you say, an entertainment lawyer) will be able to work out whether there's been any copyright infringement, breach of contract, trespass on privacy etc etc. I'd be pretty surprised if there has been, but then I'm not an entertainment lawyer in your jurisdiction so my idle speculation about the merits of your case is completely useless to everyone.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:08 PM on June 21, 2011

Please don't give any more details here, as it's going to jeopardize your case. If it really bugs you, consult a lawyer, even for a short consult.

I'm already guessing based on recent books about celebrities that feature a house pretty easily. Don't kill your case by bringing it to a public forum.
posted by Gucky at 5:09 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: IAAL - IANYL
Talk to a lawyer in your jurisdiction about this. You may have a claim against the celebrity if your rental contract forbid using the space commercially.

I would be really cautious about pursuing a case against the production company that made the TV show, or the company that published the book. I don't know where you are located, but you may want to check if your jurisdiction has an ANTI-SLAPP statute.

I have a colleague who was involved in a very similar case here in California. Someone was renting a house with a no-commercial purposes clauses in the lease. They became the star of a reality show which was filmed in the rental property. The landlord saw the show, and sued the tenant and the production company.

The production company asserted an ANTI-SLAPP claim and won a rather large monetary award + attorney's fees from the landlord. So be careful, and be sure to ask any lawyer you consult specifically about the risk of an ANTI-SLAPP motion.

If you're in CA, I can put you in touch with the lawyer involved in the similar case.

Depending on the specific facts of your case, it may come out completely differently. This is why you should seek competent legal advice!
posted by Arbac at 5:10 PM on June 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: To answer some of these questions, it is a non-fiction work, a picture/text book. Photos (I believe four prominent in total) of the house are used, both interior and exterior, all shots that would be unaccessible to anyone from the street. One is even a double-page centerfold. I'm not sure about text. Need to pick up a copy of the book myself.

I come from the television industry, so I can pretty much assess that on my own, but as I said, I know nothing of the publishing business...and this is a best-seller.

I have a formal residential lease agreement drawn up by two real estate agents. I have seen a copy of the tv production release form to shoot on the property signed by said celeb who claimed ownership of the property.
posted by zagyzebra at 5:16 PM on June 21, 2011

What is it that you are trying to accomplish?
posted by frieze at 5:22 PM on June 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Owners typically get paid for usage of their properties for any kinds of commercial shoots. The fees are negotiable.
posted by zagyzebra at 5:29 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just to clarify -- is there any way that your property interest or house value is diminished by what the celebrity did? On its face, I don't see how the celebrity lying about owning your house is, in any way, a basis for legal action by you. (Plus, a lease is an "ownership interest" of a sort, just not the classic fee simple absolute that we generally associate with ownership).

Anyone can lie about owning my house, on TV or in a book. I don't see how I am harmed by that, in a way giving rise to a legal cause of action.
posted by jayder at 5:33 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're losing any sleep over this, I suggest you stay up late planning on how to leverage your property's free publicity rather than plotting your revenge.
posted by jsturgill at 5:33 PM on June 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, I see. Did your lease agreement specify no commercial use?
posted by jayder at 5:34 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lawyer lawyer lawyer. All any of us can tell you, at best, is that it definitely sounds like you need to consult with a lawyer, who may tell you anything from "you have no case" to "Let's go sue somebody" to anything else, depending on their judgement and expertise. There are people here who might be qualified to tell you more, as they are themselves lawyers; as they are not your lawyer they are limited to telling you to get a lawyer.

So get a lawyer.
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:34 PM on June 21, 2011

Best answer: IAAL - IANYL
You need to talk to a competent lawyer about this. People have this perception of lawyers as people who will line their own pockets while reducing your potential recovery in the process. I won't deny that there are incompetent lawyers around, and that some care more about themselves than their clients, but generally those are exceptions to the rule.

Most of the time, lawyers can provide a better assessment of your claims and their assistance need not be on a contingency basis - if you really are worried that such a fee agreement is a bad deal for you, sign an hourly agreement instead.

That said, you might want to have a legal professional handle your demands so you don't inadvertently make factual claims that undermine your legal position or leave money on the table. Also, your lawyer may have access to various sources of information on judgments and settlements in your area that will provide a clearer picture of what these kinds of claims are really worth.
posted by Hylas at 5:34 PM on June 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Here's a data point: a few years ago my mom was looking through a very major garden/furniture/lifestyle catalog and suddenly realized that it was our garden featured. The entire thing had been set up by the landscaper and shot during a period when my family wouldn't find out about it.

Like you, my mom was mad about it and consulted with lawyers. Ultimately she settled with the catalogue company and received several thousand dollars worth of credit to spend on their products, which was a settlement she was happy about.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:36 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

One thing that a lawyer will tell you is that a renter has the right to use the home as she sees fit during the tenancy, and the owner's (almost) only right is to receive the rent. These can be modified by the lease, but that is the general rule.
posted by yclipse at 6:01 PM on June 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

One thing that a lawyer will tell you is that a renter has the right to use the home as she sees fit during the tenancy, and the owner's (almost) only right is to receive the rent. These can be modified by the lease, but that is the general rule.
posted by yclipse at 6:01 PM on June 21

Yes, exactly. Wishing, after the fact, that you had been savvy enough to insist on compensation for any commercial/print/broadcast use of your home is not really a grounds for suit. If you didn't include such provision in the lease, your claim sounds pretty frivolous.
posted by jayder at 6:10 PM on June 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

If she represented herself as the owner on the release, her contract with the production company is void, I guess. but what do you really want? money? I doubt they're going to pulp the book.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:54 PM on June 21, 2011

If the celeb got a fee, then isn't this a form of sub-letting/sub-leasing? - which should be covered in the contract. I can see where other people are going with the 'What do you really want to do?' but if the celeb made some financial or other gain of the deal, then maybe you have a better case.
posted by carter at 7:21 PM on June 21, 2011

Best answer: (mods feel free to remove this comment if it is noise)

A lot of folks seem to be questioning why the OP wants payment.

Simply put, it's understood that media/production companies pay fees to the owner's of property where they shoot commercial images. I'm sure there are laws against profiting without payment to the owners of these properties. In fact, renting a space for commercial film or television use is a pretty large ancillary revenue stream for many owners of iconic or empty buildings spaces in Los Angeles.

The problem may be that the celeb took payment for commercial use on a residential space they did not own, or that nobody got paid for the commercial use, but the OP should have.

When I think of damages, loss of privacy comes to mind in this case. (those stupid bus tours and star map businesses, not to mention if some stalker targets the home not realizing the celeb doesn't really live there...) But the biggest damage is that the OP didn't get paid or have the ability to negotiate terms of IF or how their private residence could be used for commercial publication/broadcast. Instead other folks decided these issues and have profited.

At the end of the day, the problem in this question is a form of stealing.
posted by jbenben at 8:42 PM on June 21, 2011 [13 favorites]

But if the celeb rented the space as a location-- and the lease doesn't forbid that sort of use-- I don't think going after the production company is going to be very fruitful.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:48 PM on June 21, 2011

I think suggestions to consult a lawyer are less helpful than specific recommendations to consult a lawyer in a certain practice area, e.g., "OP, you mentioned contacting an entertainment lawyer, but actually you should consult a lawyer in X practice area". Because there are lawyers answering this question it would seem like that is a reasonable thing to expect.
posted by mlis at 8:57 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I may be just a simple caveman lawyer landlord, but I'm mystified at your angle here. Whatever they paid the celebrity, it's only incidental that they were living on your property. It's not as if your property is specifically special to anyone -- from my reading -- except as the abode of this celebrity.

It just seems to me, even in the world of Los Angeles, that exploiting this to your future benefit is worth much more in the long run than anything you're likely to get in terms of a vigorish from what your tenant was, to your presumption, paid. I wouldn't seek a monetary settlement, I'd seek a framed copy of the galley plates of the book. Then when this guy moves out, you put it up in the front hall and show it to everyone who wants to rent from you. You've got the place that was rented by FAMOUS CELEB JOHN DOE and here's the proof! That's got to be worth something to some renters, especially those that rent the kind of place I assume you must have.

Ultimately, though, you want to make sure this is a clause in your future lease -- especially if you rent to a celebrity.

Oh, I have to answer the question? Well, attorney. Seems obvious enough. If you have no idea what your rights are in this instance, you're not likely to succeed without one.
posted by dhartung at 10:42 PM on June 21, 2011

Given that the actions of the celebrity have quite likely added to the value of your house, you may put yourself in the unusual and hilarious position of suing for negative damages. Which might result in you being awarded negative compensation. Spend a few hundred dollars on a chat with a good lawyer first, then maybe follow that up with a few thousand on a better lawyer recommended by the first one. If that seems too high an amount to pay, you'd be better off not getting involved any further.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:45 PM on June 21, 2011

Best answer: The actions of the celebrity could more likely devalue the house by requiring added security from fans trying to see the celebrity, for example. Future tenants may not feel comfortable having the layout of the property publicly available that could be used for the advantage of criminals. The potential for problems is huge.

In the same way as you may not wish to have your likeness used for commercial purposes, a property owner may not want their property used for reasons of privacy. Generally the owner gives permission for this type of media exposure and compensation is involved. It isn't strange that zagyzebra is seeking compensation for something that is SOP and I find it odd that people think this is wrong.
posted by JJ86 at 7:13 AM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: JJ86 & jbenben hit the nail on the head. This is somewhat of an iconic old home, distinctive one-of-a-kind. Celebrities? Wtf cares? I've rented this house to at least a dozen celebrated people -- makes no difference to me or to anyone else. Before this, the only time this home appeared in print before was when I authorized the shoot.
posted by zagyzebra at 10:03 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

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