Can I Cancel If They Perform In My Backyard?

By Brian Taylor Goldstein

Dear Law & Disorder:

After we booked an artist, the artist’s agent booked them to perform two weeks later at another venue 25 miles away from us. It’s a smaller venue that charges less for tickets than we do. This will impact our sales. Can we cancel? I was told that exclusivity was industry standard.

Was there a booking contract? What did it say? If the contract provided your venue with a period of exclusivity or restrictions on when and where the artist could perform before or after your engagement, then the artist might be in breach of the contract. (Remember, unless the agent is acting as a producer, your contract is between you and the artist.) On the other hand, if there was no booking agreement or if the booking agreement didn’t provide you with any period of exclusivity or restrictions, then you probably would not have the right to cancel. If you fail to negotiate something (a commission rate, cancellation terms, licensing rights, etc.) “industry standard” will not provide the missing terms. Unvoiced assumptions and expectations do not become contractual arguments. To the contrary, if you fail to negotiate something, the missing terms remain missing and unenforceable.

I’ve said it before, but it always bears repeating: there is no such thing as “industry standard”—least of all in the performing arts industry. In this case, in my personal opinion, I would certainly consider it unprofessional for either an artist or an agent to intentionally book an engagement that directly competes with an already booked engagement, and I suspect I am not alone in that perspective. However, I also suspect it would be far from easy to obtain a consensus as to whether or not a smaller venue 25 miles away necessarily constitutes a “competing venue.” Regardless, contractual terms are not written by majority opinion. Neither “common industry practice” nor my own personal opinions rise to the level of contractual obligations. Without a contractual requirement specifically prohibiting the artist from performing within two weeks at another venue 25 miles away from you, you would be the one in breach of the contract should you decide to cancel for that reason alone. It would also be equally inappropriate for you to coerce or otherwise suggest that the artist breach his or her contract with the other venue in order to accommodate your concerns.

My advice would be for all parties concerned to consider an appropriate adjustment of some kind. Perhaps there is still time for one of the dates to be moved, or there can be a reduced engagement fee, or even a joint marketing strategy. Assuming that this was an unanticipated outcome by all of the parties, the primary objective at this point needs to be to preserve the relationships between the parties and find a way for both engagements at both venues to continue as planned.


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