It seems nowadays that models are
constantly concerned about their safety when dealing with photographers, but
they are failing to ask if an “agency” is licensed. In reality dealings with an
unlicensed agency leaves the model, companies and individuals at a higher risk
for loss than dealings with a one on one contract. In many states it is
considered a crime to act as a model
agent without the proper license, and in some it’s a crime to utilize the
services of such persons.
There are some exceptions, depending on the state. For
instance, New York requires “Model Agencies” to be licensed, but “management
companies” do not have licensing requirements. Many of the top agencies in New
York, such as Ford, Wilhelmina and Elite are considered “management companies”
rather than agencies, therefore not being required to obtain an agency license.
Keeping this in mind, having an agency license doesn’t necessarily make a
company legitimate, but it does require that they abide by specific laws
mandated by the state they operate in. It’s always best to reference check the
“agency”, “management company”, or other similar company/individual prior to
agreeing to work with them.
Most agencies do charge their model fees for acquiring images (i.e.
making them comp cards), their space on the agency website, training, or other
portfolio building services. They do so by deducting the funds from work
performed. Some agencies give models the option to deduct the fees from the
revenue collected from paid assignments, or they may also receive the option of
paying the full fees up front. Upon booking a paid assignment the
agency/manager would assess their fees for the booking, deduct a portion or
entire amount for portfolio work, and then issue a pay check for the remainder.
Keep in mind the amount and options the agency puts in front of you may be a
warning sign. A lack of options (particularly, asking you to pay up front and
requiring you to meet with one of the agency’s own photographers, to shoot you
and use those shots for comp cards) could indicate the service is simply a
“photo mill.” It is always best to verify through independent sources how
reputable an agency performs as each service may have their own policies on
California case example
Case in point singer Jewel Kilcher, professionally known as
“JEWEL” an individual, Plaintiff v. Inga Vainshtein, an individual, and COLD
WAR MANAGEMENT, a business entity of unknown origin. Jewel petitioned the state
to void her contract with the “agent” (Respondent) based on her claim that the agent
“acted as a model agent without the required license.” In this case the Labor
Board Commission Hearing Officer David Gurley concluded that “respondent acted
in the capacity of a model agency and did indeed procure employment without a
license in violation of Labor Code 1700.5”. The ruling ordered “It is hereby
ordered that the 1994 contract between Petitioner, Jewel and respondent Inga
Vainshtein, is unlawful and void ab initio. Respondent has no enforceable
rights under this contract.”
In essence the singer, Jewel, won her claim against
the agent, Vainshtein, but she was unable to collect previously paid commission
to her manager. Also the agent was unable to collect further pending
commissions from the singer.
How this affects you?
(This case was in California; laws vary from state to state) Contracts
written are not enforceable under most state laws if the agent is not licensed.
You may find yourself in a position where you performed your services and
cannot collect the contracted fees. Other implications can be in the form of
liability if others represent you and obligations are not met. Being served
with litigation for failing to have the proper licensing, insurance, bond or
other requirement is not worth the risk of pay you may receive from working
with an unlicensed agent.
Now, the issue with Jewel and her mother was really them not wanting to
pay commissions to the person that had built up her career. The record shows
what a disaster that turned out to be for Jewel. They used a technicality to
win the case and if there was any crossing of lines it was all for the benefit
of the model, the deals in fact that were isolated were major turning points
for her career, no harm was done, no double commissions, just a law on the
books that firmly protects model agencies and or lawyers and this is not a
provision that protects model in MOST cases.
The line between agents and managers is quite fuzzy but the model
agencies in LA are pushing very hard to make sure that they are kept in place
while in NY this is not the case. The fact is agents and lawyers are needed to
close deals in CA on behalf of model and the other fact is that managers create
the opportunity for deals to happen and in many cases create the brand that can
be sold by the agents.
When the right team is in place the brand for the model can
be pretty strong, but if you speak to model, the agents are the ones who often
drop the ball and the manager needs to do the heavy lifting. Clearly anyone who
needs a license should have one and having a license is not an indicator of
In conventional terms the agent is “sales” and the
manager can play like “marketing”. The manager will have the longer
view on a model’s career rather than the immediate transactional value of the
agent who needs to make a commission happen right away. Sometimes that
commission is at the expense of the bigger downstream play on the model.
Managers are in fact an essential part of a model and are
often the most long standing relationships in an models life. It is important
to keep all aspects of this in mind.