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State of Confusion: Agents not sure how to proceed after booking fees deemed “unlawful”

Issue surfaced during Nicole Doshi’s legal tussle with Motley Models; DLSE agrees with lawyer that long-standing fees are a "conflict of interest"

By Austin King / Editor

May 10, 2024

*PornCrush interviewed three adult industry agents for this article. Each of them asked to remain anonymous.

Nicole Doshi’s recent legal victory in her contract dispute with controversial Motley Models owner Dave Rock was universally celebrated throughout the adult industry.

Privately, though, it left agents scratching their heads.

California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) ruled last week that Doshi’s contract with Motley was void from the very beginning. The reason? An unapproved portion of the overall agreement regarding booking fees, which is a “service fee” paid directly from the studio to the agent and not intended for the performer.

The DLSE labeled the fees—which are commonplace throughout the industry—as “unlawful.”

“If booking fees are unlawful,” one agent told PornCrush, “then we’re all in violation.”

In other words, if Motley’s contracts are void because of booking fees, does that mean everyone else’s are, too? And if so, will the DLSE’s verdict in the Doshi case force an industry-wide change that makes booking fees a thing of the past?

The short answer is no.

Or rather, at least not yet.

Some quick background: The DLSE certainly carries a lot of juice in the adult industry. All agencies are required to have their contracts—along with any supplemental documents—rubber-stamped by the organization before they are passed along to performers. If the contract and accompanying forms haven’t been approved by the DLSE, they aren’t valid.

In Motley’s case, the agency’s exclusive performer agreement was indeed rubber-stamped by the DLSE in July of 2021. But the contract did not include any mention of booking fees, as the DLSE had instructed Motley to remove that verbiage from a previous draft.

But Motley erred when it shifted the booking fee portion of the agreement to a separate form entitled “Schedule of Fees.” By signing the agreement, Doshi acknowledged Motley would charge studios a booking fee for each of her scenes, with 100 percent of the money going directly to Motley.

The problem was that Motley never sent the updated version of the “Schedule of Fees” to the DLSE for approval. Even if it had, the DLSE had already instructed Motley to remove the booking fee portion from the “Schedule of Fees” one year earlier.

Because the DLSE must approve “any and all forms and documents” for the overall agreement to be valid, Doshi’s contract was deemed void.

Rock was ordered to pay back all of the money Doshi made for the agency in commission ($25,875) and booking fees ($10,850), along with her attorney fees and costs ($16,469) for a total of $53,194.

“It’s pretty simple,” another agent told PornCrush. “They gave her a bad contract.”

Still, the bigger issue is the DLSE’s apparent issue with booking fees.

Doshi’s attorney, Allan Gelbard, told XBIZ that the fees “create a conflict of interest between agents and their clients.” Another common refrain is that agents are “double-dipping” by earning both commission off their performer’s scenes and then a separate fee from the studio.

They make it sound like we’re gouging or taking unfair advantage of the talent,” a third agent told PornCrush. “It has nothing to do with that. The bottom line is, booking fees were devised 30 years ago and it hasn’t changed. They are very fair and reasonable.”

While the DLSE argues that an agent’s work ends the moment a performer is booked for a scene—therefore making an additional fee unwarranted and exploitative—the agents disagree.

Often referred to as a “service fee,” agents say they earn their booking fee money by counseling/advising performers before a scene, ensuring they arrive on set in a timely fashion and serving as an intermediary for any issues that may arise between the performer and the studio.

“We do our best to see the whole thing through,” another agent said. “Studios appreciate us. They don’t want to run an agency. They need someone who (oversees) the talent. That’s where we come in. They don’t have any problem paying that fee.”

The adult industry’s standard booking fee is $100 per scene for female talent. Even with inflation, agents say, that figure has remained the same for more than a decade. All of the money goes to the agency, along with either 10 or 15 percent of the performer’s commission, depending on the contract.

For example, if Doshi was paid $1,000 for a boy-girl shoot with Evil Angel, and her contract stipulated she pay 15 percent of that fee to Motley, then Motley would make $250 from the shoot: $150 from the commission and $100 for the booking fee. Doshi would make $850.

One of the agents interviewed for this story said booking fees represent 40 percent of his yearly income. That figure mostly falls in line with the money Doshi brought in to Motley during one year.

“If that 40 percent went away I’d be out of business,” the agent said. “We’re not getting rich. People would be shocked at how little we make. It’s very black and white. It’s very cut and dry. I could give you the numbers. It’s not a lot.”

The agent also opined that most performers don’t even have an issue with their agents collecting booking fees.

Doshi, for instance, wanted to get out of her contract because studio titan Vixen Media Group had stopped shooting Motley Models because of a disagreement with Rock. Doshi felt the boycott was damaging her career, and she also indicated she heard some unsavory gossip about Rock that made her want to terminate the talent agreement. The booking fees provided a legal loophole.

“A talent who has no grievance against their agent doesn’t care two shits about this thing,” an agent said. “In the past, in each case where there’s been a ruling, there was an egregious act by an agent that caused the legal precedent to be made and ruled upon.”

Even more maddening, agents say, is the DLSE’s wishy-washy stance on booking fees that has created a sense of confusion. The organization has been inconsistent with its past rulings in cases involving booking fees, having deemed them acceptable in some situations and impermissible in others.

“They use the same system in mainstream,” the other agent said. “I asked an entertainment lawyer about it and he said (booking fees) are totally fine.”

Richard Freeman, Rock’s attorney, told XBIZ that the topic of booking fees “has been batted about for a number of years, and the Labor Commission Office itself has taken very inconsistent positions, initially setting forth the conditions under which booking fees could be collected and later reversing its position with a couple of decisions that invalidated booking fees. The issue of booking fees has never been considered by a California court.”

That will soon change.

Freeman said Rock intends to file for a trial de novo in Los Angeles Superior Court. The decision, which Freeman predicts will be “very beneficial to talent agents,” could provide some legal clarity on booking fees once and for all.

Until then, agents say they don’t plan to alter their practices and will continue to charge booking fees.

Even if the Superior Court eventually sides with the DLSE and deems booking fees unlawful, agents aren’t worried about finances. If they are forced to stop charging booking fees, they will simply increase the performers' rates for studio shoots and charge the performers a commission of 20 percent instead of 10 or 15.

“We’d just be moving money around,” one of the agents said, “At the end of the year, everyone’s books are going to be exactly the same.”

Austin King / Editor

Austin King spent nearly 20 years as a mainstream journalist before pivoting to coverage of the adult industry in 2020. He specializes in breaking news and in-depth features, with some of his best work to date coming for AVN Magazine in profiles of Gina Valentina, Casey Kisses, Anna-Claire Clouds, Kayden Kross, Chanel Camryn, Kenzie Anne, Lilly Bell and others. Austin resides in Texas but makes frequent trips to Porn Valley.