By Brian K. Carvell, Esq.
Originally published in DRUM! Magazine’s February 2006 Issue
Remember a few years ago when Fox aired the show Secrets Of Magic Revealed and magicians were mad at the star of the show for ruining the mystique and allure of their craft? Well, I’m about to do the same!
Everyone has heard the stories about a lawyer coming in after a contract is signed, and getting a musician out of a bum deal. How do lawyers break these contracts? There are a few valid reasons that you can argue in order to be released from having to fulfill your obligations under a contract.
Generally, for a contract to be valid, two essential elements must be present: a “mutual meeting of the minds” and “consideration.” A mutual meeting of the minds means that both parties understand their respective obligations under the contract, and that all terms of the contract have been fully disclosed.
However, you cannot void a contract simply because you did not take the time to read what you signed. Typically, the law won’t excuse you for negligence, or more specifically, laziness. However, when both parties made a mutual mistake about an important part of the contract, this can cause a contract to be cancelled.
Consideration is what you receive for your performance according to the terms of the contract. By signing a contract, you are always giving up your right to do something (for example, if you sign a contract with a record company, you now can’t make a record for someone else). In order for the law to recognize your obligations, you must have received some form of consideration for the rights you gave up.
A contract signed under duress is unenforceable. This means that one party is essentially forced to agree to a contract against his or her will. One urban legend that would illustrate duress would be when Axl Rose reportedly refused to go on stage on the opening night of the stadium tour with Metallica unless the band signed over their rights to the name Guns ’N Roses, causing all to lose millions of dollars.
A contract can be voided if a party to the contract relied upon fraudulent statements and/or misrepresentations of material facts. A misrepresentation will allow the injured party to cancel the contract. In the case of fraud (which is a deliberate act), the injured party can also sue for damages, such as punitive damages that serve to punish the person who committed the fraud (and this is where the big dollars come into play).
[ Ed note: This is not intended to be legal advice. If you have specific concerns, please contact an attorney.]