In early April, the New South Wales Supreme Court heard the
matter of Seven Network (Operations) Ltd v Melanie Brown
NSWSC 372 involving a contractual dispute between former Spice
Girl Mel B (aka Scary Spice) and two of Australia's rival free
to air television networks.
The "exclusive television services" of Mel B were
subject to an agreement between the artist, her management company
(controlled by her husband) and the Seven Network. The agreement
included a clear restraint of trade clause which identified that
Mel B's television services in Australia would be exclusive to
the Seven Network. The agreement also provided the Seven Network
with the option to extend the agreement for a further twelve month
Complications arose when the management company identified that
there were issues in obtaining visas for Mel B's children
(primarily due to not being about to obtain paternal consent from
the childrens' fathers) and concerns about the amount of time
that Mel B would be required to spend in Australia in order to
fulfil her commitments under the agreement. While the Seven Network
were attempting to find a way to work around these issues,
including filming segments of the X Factor (a reality television
program) in Los Angeles, Mel B's management company was in
discussions with the Nine Network about Mel B taking up a role in a
show on their network. They entered an agreement to this effect on
14 March 2013.
The main issues at trial were whether the Seven Network had
exercised their option to extend the agreement (subject to some
amendments) and, if this was the case, whether the agreement had
subsequently been terminated. An argument that the restraint of
trade was void on public policy reasons was run at trial however
Justice Hammerschlag found this argument to be
His Honour's view on this argument was based on his
assessment that the restraint was merely a "negative promise
not to provide services to its [the Seven Network's]
competitor, which promise is part of a fair and freely negotiated
bargain made recently", that Mel B would not be prohibited
from working in Australia more generally, for example in radio or
providing product endorsements, and that the Seven Network would
still be required to pay the agreed fees.
The evidence presented at trial included a number of emails
between employees of the Seven Network and the management company
as well as witness testimony of conversations between the two
parties. Ultimately his Honour preferred the Seven Network's
evidence and found that they had exercised their option to extend
the agreement and that there was no evidence of an agreement to
terminate or an abandonment of the agreement. Final injunctive
relief was granted to the Seven Network.
The Nine Network had provided Mel B and her management company
with an indemnity against costs arising out of the claim brought by
the Seven Network and consequently will bear the expense of this
litigation. Interestingly, they have now contracted Mel B's
former band mate, Geri Halliwell (aka Ginger Spice) to fill the
role on their show.
It must at least be reassuring to the Nine Network to know that
Australian courts will hold Spice Girls to the bargains they
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The issue of recording telephone calls was recently considered in the Federal Court in Furnari v Ziegert  FCA 1080.
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