Keep it simple: Understanding Contracts Part 1

Contracts can be scary. When confronted with one, it might be easier to close your eyes and hope for the best, but most lawyers will advise you against this approach. It’s important to spend some time trying to understand any contract thrust in front of you as an artist or arts organisation before you sign it.

To help decipher the legalise, we spoke to Michael Park, Partner at Norton Rose Fulbright (Regional Arts Victoria’s pro bono lawyers). Because he had so much gold to share, we’ve broken this information up into three articles, which we’ll post online over the coming weeks.

This is the first article in the series.

Keep it Simple

Contracts Image 1 - Photo by Joe TooheyPark’s first bit of advice is to give yourself time.

“What I always say to people, especially people who don’t often deal with contracts, is just make sure you take the time to read through the contract. If you don’t understand anything in it, or if there are some things in the contract that need to be fleshed out a bit more or clarified, then you really need to go back to the other party and get some clarification around it,” he says.

It’s important to seek this clarity before you sign anything, he continues. “I think it’s important not to be intimidated by written contracts, or to feel that you need to rush in and sign it, but just to take the time to read it and understand it and if you’ve got any concerns or queries, than make sure they’re all cleared up before you actually sign it.”

Of course, actually knowing what to look for helps. Park identifies five key things to look for in any written contract:

  1. What services are you going to provide? What is it that you actually have to do?
  1. When do you have to do it? Usually, a time and the place for performances, for example, are specified.
  1. How you are going to do it? Are there guidelines or specifications on how you must deliver your part of the contract? Often, this is the area where disputes arise, so it’s important you understand and the contract is clear on this point.
  1. How much are you going to get paid, and when are you going to get paid? The question of timing is particularly important if you will be using this money to pay other artists or suppliers; you want to make sure you have the money to pay them.
  1. Importantly, what do you need the other party to do? Do they need to provide something to you? This might be more than just money: it could include a venue, electricity, a truck, or other equipment, for example. It’s important to consider what you might need the other party to do so you can deliver on your part of the contract.

He advises against getting bogged down in definitions and termination clauses. Deal initially with the five issues outlined above so “not only you but anyone else that reads the contract can pick it up, that’s really the most important thing,” he notes.

There are a couple of other essentials to watch out for to ensure the contract is enforceable.

  1. “Sufficient certainty”: make sure there is no ambiguity or potential uncertainty about what the terms of the contract actually mean. There should be no confusion.
  1. Clearly identify who the parties in the contract are.

Additionally, you should consider, if a minor is a party to the contract, whether a parent or guardian should sign on their behalf. As an organisation, you should also make sure the person signing the contract has the authority to do so on behalf of your organisation.

In the next article, we look in more depth at what artists need to consider before signing a contract.

Nothing in this article should be considered legal advice. You should seek the advice of a professional lawyer should you require specific advice, or contact one of these very helpful organisations:

 

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