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Britney, Inc.: Court Papers Detail Drama of Doing Business With Britney Spears

Dealing with Britney Spears is as difficult as you'd expect, according to a lawsuit that unveils the contractual and financial details for licensing Spears' name and image to Elizabeth Arden for a line of fragrances.

The suit describes how Spears turned from a singer into a brand that sells products beyond music. For instance, "Britney" is literally a company -- Britney Brands Inc. Her deal with Arden was worth $27 million over 10 years. The deal has been a productive one: Spears launched nine different fragrances since 2004 and the suit claims Arden is her single largest licensing client.

The problem is that Spears is a bit of a flake, the case alleges, and Arden took a huge risk on a star with a propensity for meltdowns. Most other companies, such as Unilever (UL), were frightened off, the suit says.

"Too volatile" for investment
The suit was brought by Brand Sense Partners, an agency that represented Spears in 2003 for all her product licensing deals. BSP was to receive up to 35 percent of all revenues generated from the Arden deal. At the time, corporate America was not enthusiastic about dealing with Spears, BSP alleges:

Many of these potential licensees were apprehensive or simply not interested as, at the time, Ms. Spears was in a period of personal and professional upheaval and considered too volatile and risky an investment.
Further, Spears' instability nearly tanked the whole deal, according to a motion in the case (click to enlarge):

"Britney did not want to pay"
The companies that walked away from Spears turned out to be right about Spears' volatility. In 2010, BSP claims, Spears and her father Jamie Spears unilaterally altered the Arden contract and persuaded the perfume company to pay all royalties directly to Spears. BSP lost up to $10 million in revenue, it claims:

Mr. Spears complained that the commission was too high and said that Britney did not want to pay it.
BSP wants to drag Spears into a deposition to testify about what she knows about her company's decision to allegedly carve BSP out of the perfume contract. Spears is claiming she is not competent to testify and cannot be dragged into a deposition due to a secret court order stemming from the time Spears was so crazy that her parents obtained guardianship over her. At the same time, Spears is on a world tour. (This psychiatrist thinks she must be sane because she gave an interview to Ryan Seacrest -- make of that what you will.)

It is highly unlikely that a court will allow Spears to evade a deposition forever, absent a settlement between the parties. Such a Q&A would be fascinating from a business point of view, as it would reveal exactly how much or how little involvement Spears has in the selling of herself. For comparison, actress Zooey Deschanel contracted with shoe designer Steve Madden (SHOO) for $2 million in a deal that required Deschanel to do almost nothing, and gave her no creative control. If Spears is incompetent, as her lawyers say, how much input can she really have had into one of Arden's most successful lines?


Image by Wikimedia, CC.
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