Talent Agency Laws California

The Talent Agencies Act provides that "no person shall engage in or carry on the occupation of a talent agency without first procuring a license therefor from the Labor Commissioner." ( 1700.5.) A talent agency is "a person or corporation who engages in the occupation of procuring, offering, promising, or attempting to procure employment or engagements for an artist or artists." ( 1700.4, subd. (a).) "Artists" means "actors and actresses rendering services on the legitimate stage and in the production of motion pictures, radio artists, musical artists, musical organizations, directors of legitimate stage, motion picture and radio productions, musical directors, writers, cinematographers, composers, lyricists, arrangers, models, and other artists and persons rendering professional services in motion picture, theatrical, radio, television and other entertainment enterprises." ( 1700.4, subd. (b).) The purpose of the Act is to protect artists seeking employment against abuses by talent agents. ( Buchwald v. Superior Court (1967) 254 Cal. App. 2d 347, 350-351, 62 Cal. Rptr. 364 (Buchwald).) A personal manager is not covered by the Act or other statutory licensing scheme. ( Waisbren v. Peppercorn Productions, Inc. (1995) 41 Cal. App. 4th 246, 252.) The primary function of the personal manager is to advise, counsel, direct, and coordinate in the development of the artist's career. (Ibid.) The manager's task encompasses attending to the artist's finances and organizing the economic elements of the artist's personal and creative life in order to enable the client to produce the creative product. (Ibid.) Even incidental or occasional procurement of employment, however, subjects a party to the Act's licensing scheme. ( Id. at p. 261; but see Wachs v. Curry (1993) 13 Cal. App. 4th 616, 628 [employment procurement must be a significant part of the agent's business as a whole, in order to subject him to the Act's licensing requirement].) If the party procuring employment is unlicensed, his agreement with the artist is illegal and void. ( Waisbren v. Peppercorn Productions, Inc., supra, at p. 262.) Section 1700.44, subdivision (a) provides: "In cases of controversy arising under this chapter, the parties involved shall refer the matter in dispute to the Labor Commissioner, who shall hear and determine the same, subject to an appeal within 10 days after determination, to the superior court where the same shall be heard de novo." "The Talent Agencies Act ( 1700-1700.47) is a remedial statute designed to protect those seeking employment. The Commissioner has the authority to hear and determine various disputes, including the validity of artists' manager-artist contracts and the liability of the parties thereunder. The reference of disputes involving the act to the Commissioner is mandatory. Disputes must be heard by the Commissioner, and all remedies before the Commissioner must be exhausted before the parties can proceed to the superior court." ( REO Broadcasting Consultants v. Martin (1999) 69 Cal. App. 4th 489, 494-495, fn. omitted, original italics.) The Labor Commissioner has original jurisdiction to the exclusion of the superior court to determine disputes arising under the Act. ( Buchwald v. Superior Court, supra, 254 Cal. App. 2d 347, 62 Cal. Rptr. 364 [trial court erred in restraining artists from proceeding before the Labor Commissioner and ordering them to arbitrate the dispute under the terms of the agency agreement].) Collier & Wallis, Ltd., v. Astor (1937) 9 Cal. 2d 202, 205-206, 70 P.2d 171, on which the court in Buchwald relied, reversed an award of damages to a licensed talent agent on the ground that the controversy had not first been submitted to the Labor Commissioner. There the plaintiff sought commissions for securing motion picture employment for the defendant artist. Collier & Wallis, Ltd., held that any action brought in the superior court without first referring the matter to the Labor Commissioner and securing a determination is premature and cannot be maintained. The Act has been broadly interpreted in favor of finding that the Labor Commissioner has jurisdiction. (See Garson v. Div. of Labor Law Enforcement (1949) 33 Cal. 2d 861, 206 P.2d 368 [Labor Commissioner has original jurisdiction of a dispute involving both fees due under an agency contract and damages for wrongful discharge of the agency]; Humes v. MarGil Ventures, Inc. (1985) 174 Cal. App. 3d 486, 494-495, 220 Cal. Rptr. 186 [Labor Commissioner has original jurisdiction to hear a claim that an agreement is void for violation of licensing requirement where the artist also brought an action in superior court for rescission based on unrelated fraud]; ABC Acceptance v. Delby (1957) 150 Cal. App. 2d Supp. 826, 828, 310 P.2d 712 [Labor Commissioner has original jurisdiction of a dispute regarding money claimed to be due under an agency agreement, even though the parties had executed a promissory note for the sum].)