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DIY Contracts: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should

Contracts. You can’t escape them. They’re a part of our daily lives, and they provide the legal framework for all of our business interactions. This is especially true in creative fields, where ownership and creative control over the things you create is priceless. Contracts can make or break you when it comes to business relationships and protecting the things you poured your heart and soul into creating.

But, contracts can also be expensive and confusing. It may be tempting to find cheap and easy substitutes for a professionally tailored contract and create one on your own from the Internet. The Internet is great, don’t get me wrong, and it has endless information and resources. However, it can be like drinking from a firehose - endless information, no filter. There are countless websites offering DIY contract templates, as well as countless examples of contracts for all kinds of scenarios.

So, what’s wrong with creating a contract from these examples? While they may seem thorough enough, DIY contracts often don’t offer the specific protections YOU need. Those who go it alone without benefit of a tailored contract can run into a number of critical issues – if not immediately, then somewhere down the road.

Like fingerprints

Not all situations are the same. This is especially true in the creative industries. Your situation is unique, just like your talent, so your contract should reflect that. Infrequently will you find an Internet-template contract that perfectly addresses and encompasses your services or your situation. A skilled entertainment lawyer can accurately assess the risks and rewards of a well-crafted contract to create a document that reflects your needs as an individual or business. While it may incur additional costs upfront, the savings from having to defend your best interests down the road can be priceless.

Differing Law

In addition to Federal laws, each state has its own set of laws, regulations and judicial interpretations. These laws and regulations are constantly changing and evolving – and no DIY contract can keep up with shifting requirements. Contract clauses that are relevant in one state may not be relevant in another. In fact, the inclusion of some clauses can completely invalidate a contract in certain states where an unenforceable clause invalidates the entire agreement. This can be an important issue in the creative and music industries where many of the contracts you can find online will be from the few states where these industries flourish, namely California and New York. Things that may be relevant in California and New York, may not be relevant in your state. 

What needs to be here?

Contracts are designed to address your specific and certain needs. But what are those needs and how should they should be protected?

The problem with DIY templates or patchwork contracts blending examples found online is they often include items that don’t need to be there. Or they leave out items crucial to you. They are designed for the masses, resulting in a vague agreement that lacks customized language for your specific needs. Contract language can be complex and it often takes a trained eye to determine when something needs to be said or when something doesn’t work to your advantage. It’s also important to ensure that clauses put together from other agreements don’t contradict or invalidate each other.

The devil is in the details in the legal world and even the smallest omission or contradiction can invalidate an entire document. An entertainment lawyer practiced in the creative industries will understand your needs and how they relate to the law – the where, why, and how you need to be protected from future headaches. A custom contract ensures you receive all of the rights and protections you need without extra language that can confuse or invalidate your contract. 

Crystal Ball

A contract needs to clearly articulate the present transaction or situation, but it does so much more. Here are a few examples of what a good contract should do:

  •  Explain how you get paid;

  • Handles the situation if one party doesn’t follow through on their responsibilities;

  • Protects you against liability in circumstances beyond your control;

  • Clearly dictates ownership and usage rights of your creative intellectual property.

As lawyers, it’s our job to look to the future and imagine all of the possible scenarios in order to plan and minimize your risk and maximize your gain. A sound contract takes into account all of the possible risks you could face - no matter how slight - and provides protection against those perils.

Cost

While a professionally drafted contract may seem more expensive on first glance, we view it as an investment in your financial and business future. The cost of a properly drafted agreement pales in comparison to the cost of a lawsuit arising from a poorly drafted one. A properly drafted contract protects you as you grow and prosper. A lawsuit, of any size, can quickly destroy your business with the time and expense drag it brings. Protection down the line is always worth the initial price.

What language is this?

Contracts are, unfortunately, often written in so-called “legalese.” Legalese is a language all its own and can be confusing to, well, virtually anyone. Just like writing in any other language, you can find yourself in legal hot water if you don’t know exactly what you’re writing. While we avoid legalese as much as we can, we understand the balance between it and plain English needed to build a solid and defensible contract.

Brevity is the soul of wit

Many DIY contracts throw a thesaurus at a wall and see what sticks. So often, we see thousands of words that say very little when a few words could speak volumes. How often have you been confronted with a contract that would put War and Peace to shame? No one wants to drag their way through 20 pages of dense legal language when all they want is to get the deal done. More is not always better when it comes to protecting creative assets. Clear and concise language not only protects you and your business, it makes for a document that won’t hinder the completion of a sound business arrangement.

If you’ve been weighing the pros and cons of a DIY contract or one more specifically tailored to your needs, give us a buzz. We can walk you through the necessary steps, explain the process, evaluate your existing contracts, and build an agreement that provides you all the necessary protections you need to thrive.

Better still, beyond just a contract, you’ll receive a relationship with attorneys that understand your talents, your goals, your potential obstacles, and future rewards. You can count on Creative Law Network to always stand in your corner.

Email us or call us at 720-924-6529

Dave Ratner