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An Insight into Influencer Houses

Written by Shirin Giordano and Ekaterina Fakirova

Do you have a contract?

“Yes, I do have a contract. I am signed with an influencer house in Europe which belongs to a franchise with other content houses based in the US.” 

A member of a mid-size influencer house in Europe has agreed to answer a few questions regarding the contractual reality behind  being part of a content house.  The questions seeked to get insight on the controversies surrounding the lack of regulation in influencer houses in terms of employment, ownership and labour law.

The confirmation by the influencer of having signed a contract with a house raised the question on what basis their work is assessed. 

Does it all depend on the likes their posts get or on the number of views? do they have to make and share a set amount of photos or videos a week? The influencer who agreed to speak to us debunked both these assumptions and said that her situation is based on “how much [she] wants to grow on social media” and therefore it is all linked to how much she loves performing and posting. She affirmed that personally she loves performing so keeping a constant posting schedule is a relatively easy task.

The phenomenon of influencer houses seems to have gained extreme popularity with the rise of influencers on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok. Its appeal lies in the chance that relatively small influencers have in exponential growth on social media through the creation of content in collaboration with other influencers with whom they live in a predetermined location which is much more perceived as a house than as a business premise. Investors are more and more willing to provide millions to young stars on different platforms in order to support collaborative content in exchange for a percentage of the creators’ profits, of course [1].

The strategy isn’t novel. For the past decade or so, YouTubers have formed similar collectives. Recently, a lawsuit was filed by the YouTuber Tfue against FaZe Clan for allegedly exploiting him, taking up to 80 percent of his earnings and violating California law by illegally operating as a talent agency. The suit shined a spotlight on labor and employment law issues. Other examples include Team10, where members were asked to sign a formal agreement on what the living arrangements in the house entailed – namely signing over the rights to some of their profits (10-20% of their own YouTube ad revenue) over to jake Paul for a period of five years, even if they decided to leave the group and a strict obligation to participate in their housemates’ videos, whether consensual or not [2].

Agreements like these show just how easily the online-content creator youth can be exploited. Many young creators are unfamiliar with legal minutiae and can end up signing predatory agreements that can cripple their earnings during their peak years. Influencers usually do not benefit from the standard worker protections offered in the traditional entertainment industry: as portrayed above, they do not have set working hours or paid vacation [3]. There are no real organizations such as union guilds in the industry to help protect the content creators. Child labor laws also remain outdated in line with the rise of minors profiting from social media.

Given the controversies surrounding content houses, it is no surprise that there have been calls for the agreements signed by creators to come under more scrutiny. Whether content houses will become a properly regulated area under different branches of law remains to be seen.

[1] https://www.insider.com/tiktok-hype-house-facing-power-struggle-legal-dispute-2020-3 

[2] https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/05/why-tfues-lawsuit-against-faze-clan-matters/589900/ 

[3] https://kotaku.com/its-time-for-youtubers-and-twitch-streamers-to-organize-1794261637

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