Do I have any legal standing to receive compensation for work I’ve done without a technical contract?

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Do I have any legal standing to receive compensation for work I’ve done without a technical contract?

I’m a freelance artist and graphic designer. A while back I was asked to help out on a project that I was told I would handsomely be compensated for once it was picked up. The project was a TV show that was supposed to be executive produced by an A-list celebrity. The owner of the project is the one who asked me to come aboard as an artist/designer to help get the project sold to a studio. I designed original graphics, pitch decks, consumer products, and character illustrations to help flesh the project out over the course of January 2016 to August 2017. To keep me motivated, the owner showed me text messages and contractual agreements stating the celebrity’s involvement. He also invited me to meetings with heads of networks and the celebrity’s management team. During that period of time I executed an estimated 493.5 hours worth of work upon the request of the client/owner of this project. I made the client aware on August 31st, 2017 of the amount owed to me at the time. The amount was based on the hourly rate I charge all of my clients. We discussed it and in so many words he told me wed figure out a way to get me paid. Prior to August 31st, 2017 I took a meeting with the client and a someone from the garment industry who would be producing my designs for the projects clothing line. I have reached out to the client on numerous occasions since August of 2017 and have not heard back. He called me on accident once and immediately hung up. I returned the call and still have not heard back. I am of the belief that the project was scrapped by the celebrity because I’m aware of a falling out between the two however, I want to know if I have any legal standing to receive compensation for the work I’ve done.

Asked on June 27, 2018 under Business Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

By "technical contract," we assume you mean there was no formal written contract. An oral (or unwritten) contract is enforceable, too, though of course it can be difficult to prove the existence and terms of such a contract if the other side disputes or disagrees with your version. (That's why you should *always* have a written contract.) You are entitled to whatever that agreement was: if the other side had agreed to pay you at an hourly rate, you're owed that, for whatever hours you can prove; if they agreed to a flat fee, to that amount; etc. Of course, if there was no agreement *in advance* as to what you'd be paid (an agreement must be entered into *before* the work is done) and you did the work essentially "on spec"--in the hopes of a project materializing and being a part of/getting a cut of it, for example)--then you'd not be entitled to anything; in this case, you gambled, betting that by doing the work for free now, you'd get more later, but the gamble did not pay out. You are, as stated, entitled to--but only entitled to--what you agreed to work for and they agreed to pay. You can sue them (the client) for that, for "breach of contract" (or violating the agreement).


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