How do non-disclosure agreements work in the entertainment industry?
July 2, 2018 1:39 PM   Subscribe

How do non-disclosure agreements work in the entertainment industry? Who has to sign them? What are the consequences of breaking them?

What is the system like for nondisclosure agreements when you work in entertainment?

I have always been curious about this and have no idea what happens. If you are a backup dancer (for example), do you have to sign one for every gig, or do you sign one when you sign on with an agency?

How specific do they usually get? Is it usually boilerplate, or do different industries or artists require different levels of not-disclosing?

What are the repercussions? If I am a backup dancer and I spill the beans about a new Beyonce video, what would happen next? Would I be arrested? What proof do they need that I was the one who told? What if I was broke and couldn't pay a fine?

I love this kind of thing so any stories or facts would be greatly appreciated.
posted by amicamentis to Law & Government (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I once had access to one of the Harry Potter books a couple of weeks before it was released. I can't remember what I signed, but I vaguely recall that the punishment was (in addition to being fired) a hefty fine of six figures or imprisonment. So perhaps they just jail you if you don't have the money. We would joke about how the money (made from selling a few pages) would be enough to move across the world and avoid extradition.
posted by Melismata at 2:14 PM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I signed an NDA for a recent production based on Los Angeles for which I had tertiary post-production responsibilities. Everyone who worked on this production signed the same agreement, which was drafted to cover pre-prod, shooting (including key creatives, all talent, all crew, all publicity, and all vendors) and post. It was not boilerplate by any means.

The NDA covered only one production produced by one company. However, the Byzantine methods of financing and assigning rights and licenses may mean that I am bound to another entity now. Certainly the production company was not listed as the copyright holder in the closing credits; however as of today it is still an active California corporation. (That’s all the hints you get, junior detectives.)

Most of the possible breaches of an NDA are civil and not criminal. For example, blabbing that you were in an abandoned Costco shooting the next Avengers movie isn’t a crime in the United States or California, but it would be a breach of the NDA. Stealing and sharing raw footage of Thanos in that Costco would make a signatory liable both civilly and criminally, but only because of laws protecting the theft and unauthorized exhibition of copyrighted material.

At prior employers, I have signed more boilerplate-style blanket NDAs that did not specify monetary penalties, or liquidated damages (that is, the cash value of the breach against the production’s revenue potential). Break the blanket NDA, and you’ll definitely get fired, and if the breach is damaging enough to your former employer, their liability insurance will go after you for liquidated damages plus costs.

The NDAs I’ve signed for specific productions have specified minimum liquidated damages of one million USD. Mark Burnett Productions, the maker of Survivor and The Apprentice, specifies five million USD for any breach at any time. I assume the production companies will take breachers to court, obtain a judgment against them, and secure payment of that judgment through court orders such as garnishments, liens, till taps, or other legal means of collecting legal debts. Certainly there were no binding arbitration clauses in my NDAs.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:38 PM on July 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Entertainment industry NDAs can be quite specific, for good business reasons. Ones that pertain to celebrities can be specific to the level of idiosyncrasy, although, once again, there can be good commercial thinking behind that for people whose image is worth more than their substance.
posted by MattD at 5:01 PM on July 2, 2018

I sign (and draft) these all the time in book publishing, and in my industry, they are quite specific to each particular project and individual. The penalties are financial and legal. (I.e., if they spilled we’d pursue them in court and make them pay an absurd amount, not something anyone could just risk having to pay out.)

For my part, I’d lose my job and reputation on top of being sued for an amount I could never come up with, which is why I can’t tell you stories ;)

Sometimes we have a potential ghostwriter sign one before we pitch them the project (so I imagine Beyoncé’s team, for example, would have every dancer who auditioned sign one before even revealing what the project was if it was even revealed.)
posted by kapers at 8:29 PM on July 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, and breaching the agreement is not a police matter but it could be a civil legal matter, and like in any litigation, there is a “discovery” process where we’d interview witnesses, get depositions, request documents and other evidence, subpoena email and phone records, etc.
posted by kapers at 8:51 PM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older Remastering: is the tape too old?   |   #dadfail Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.