As recently as the 1930s it was not uncommon to see children in the work force, earning their own wages. It was not until 1908 that the National Child Labor Committee formed. President Roosevelt did not sign the Fair Labor Standards Act until 1938. (Tratner) Today, however, minors in the workforce have strict regulations in place for their protection. In fact before the age of fourteen, minors in the United States are not legally aloud to have a job at all. Nonetheless children under fourteen, some even as young as fifteen days old are working in entertainment.
Should minors working in the entertainment industry be protected from potential squandering of their assets by the state and are the current requirements too restrictive as it relates to minor actors with only one living parent? California, one of the most prominent states in the industry, is responsible for a majority of children in entertainment. The current law enacted to protect the assets of child entertainers is found in the California Family Code, Sections 6750-6753.
In part it covers any contract “pursuant to which a minor is employed or agrees to render artistic or creative services, either directly or through a third party, including, but not limited to, a personal services corporation. ” (California Family Code, Section 6750 (a)(1)) Unfortunately the Fair Labor Standards Act does not regulate minors that work in entertainment. (Kreig) While it is expected that the parents of the children in entertainment industry ensure their well-being and are representing their children’s best interests, too many Hollywood horror stories prove otherwise.
Parents can become blinded by the wealth their child accumulates working in entertainment. Many child stars were left penniless when they turned eighteen and discovered their parents were irresponsible with their income. With no federal laws regulating children working in entertainment, states pass their own laws. (Kreig) California, one of the most prominent states in the industry, is responsible for a majority of children in entertainment. In an effort to protect the income of young entertainers, California implemented Coogan Law, section 6750 and section 36 of the California civil code. CA Codes)
In the news today people have been outraged that Bindi Irwin, daughter of the late Steve Irwin, is required to prove her father’s death before a contract with the broadcasting company BBC Worldwide can be approved by a California court. Bindi Irwin has been competing on the BBC Worldwide show Dancing with the stars but without getting the contract approved she will not be paid for appearing on the show. (Phillips). While it may seem like harassment or just cruel to force Bindi Irwin to provide her father’s death certificate, the law has been passed in her best interest.
The name Coogan first became recognizable when Charlie Chaplin cast child actor Jackie Coogan to be in film The Kid. (Goldfrap) The film became such a success that families in the 1920s knew Coogan’s name the way families knew the name Dakota Fanning or Macaulay Culkin. Jackie Coogan continued his career staring in more film successes such as Oliver Twist and the Rag Man. By the age of eighteen Coogan accumulated an estimated three to four million dollars. When he turned twenty-one he wanted the earnings from his early stardom back from his parents but they denied his request.
His mother and stepfather had already spent most of the money Coogan had made and claimed they never agreed to give any of it to Jackie. Since at the time California law did little to govern the income of child entertainers, Coogan was only given half of what was left of his earnings, a total of about one hundred and twenty-six thousand dollars. Coogan later faced hard financial times. His financial troubles were preventable if his parents had not used his earnings on extravagant purchases, such as fur coats and collectable cars. Goldfrap)
Following Coogan’s case California passed the a law, referred to as Coogan Law, requiring that at least fifteen percent of their earnings be placed in a blocked trust fund protected by the state for any minor living in California, working with in California, or working with a corporation based in California. Additionally, the law allows for parents to sign a quitclaim that will waive their rights to any of them income earned by their child in a contract. (Coogman Law) California was forced to enact this law when in the mid 1900’s studios would sign actors to exclusive studio contracts.
Under these contracts actors were only able to work with that studio. However, the infancy law doctrine states that minors can not be bound by contracts they do not have the capacity to make, allowing child actors to sign studio contracts and void them when they wanted. (Kreig) Section 36 protects the entertainment industry since once the court approves the contract, the minor no longer has right to void the contract based on the argument that they did not have the capacity to make the contract in the first place.
This section also is in place to ensure that minors are not entering into contracts that are not in their best interest. Even though Bindi Irwin is Australian, she is still obligated to follow these laws because the law also states that California employers who employ resident minors out-of-state, under contractual arrangements made within California must comply with all California regulations. Minors from out-of-state working in California must also adhere to California law. (Kreig)
This means that in order for Bindi to receive the earnings laid out in the contract with BBC Worldwide she has to have it brought into a California court and approved by a judge. Bindi has already made $260,000 by making it past week eight on the Dancing with the Stars but the court does not find it in her best interest to approve the contract because only Bindi’s mother Terri Irwin has signed the quitclaim. (LaCapria) In Coogan’s law unless both parents give up their rights to all of the income in the contract the minor is only promised the fifteen percent trust fund.
In order for her contract to be approved she will need to have her birth certificate and Steve Irwin’s death certificate. The court was right in their decision to deny Bind Irwin’s contract with BBC Worldwide until she is able to prove her father’s death. While it seems unnecessary given that her father’s death was reported by the media and a memorial for Steve Irwin was broadcast across the globe, the California statute requires that….. , which is in Bindi’s best interest.
Over the last century, young entertainers have been taken advantage of in the industry and it is sensible that the judge, regardless of who the minor is, takes all the precautions in protecting them. Coogan Law and section 36 of the California civil code were passed in order to protect child entertainers. Coogan Law forces some of a minor’s income into a trust account and allows parents sign quitclaims to give up their rights to all of the income. Section 36 of California’s civil code forces a minor entering into a contract in the entertainment industry to have the contract approved by a court beforehand.
Although almost everyone knows of Steve Irwin’s death, his daughter, Bindi Irwin, still has to prove the death to a California judge in order for her contract to be approved. Bindi Irwnhas been competing on the BBC Worldwide show Dancing with the stars but without getting the contract approved she will not be paid for appearing on the show. While it may seem like harassment or just cruel to force Bindi Irwin to provide her father’s death certificate, the law has been passed in her best interest.