In today's fast-paced world of online content creation, a remarkable trend is emerging – young influencers are taking centre stage. These budding internet stars, often best understood by their fellow Gen Z enthusiasts, amass huge followings through engaging vlogs and attention-grabbing social media content.
Child influencers can be as young as six years old (take Elle Lively McBroom, for instance, with a whopping 4.2 million followers on Instagram!). But the reigning champion is Ryan Kaji, boasting over 34 million YouTube subscribers. And his secret? Unboxing toys and sharing game-time adventures, of course!
Yet, handling global fame and fortune is no small feat for a commercially untrained child. So, what are the commercial rights of a child influencer, and to what extent can they override the authority of those with parental responsibility over them?
The Business of Child Influencers
Surprisingly, these young stars hold significant commercial sway, rivalling small and medium-sized businesses in terms of income and value. Some parents dive headfirst into this journey, taking on quasi-managerial roles, overseeing social media accounts, negotiating contracts, and producing content, all while their child continues to build and sell their brand.
Child Influencers and Commercial Contracts
Child influencers primarily thrive on sponsorship deals with major brands like Nickelodeon and Mattel (Ryan Kaji is a shining example). Payment usually lands in a designated account under the child's name or in their parents' hands to manage in trust.
Legally speaking, can a child influencer be bound by contracts under English Law? Let's break it down:
- Contracts for Necessities: Think food, drink, clothing, lodging and medicine, etc;
- Beneficial Contracts: These cover apprenticeships, education, and various services.
If a contract doesn't fall into either category, the minor might have the option to void it. That is not to say however, that the other adult party does not remain contractually liable. Contracts can also be enforced if they bring a clear benefit to the child, especially in terms of substantial financial gain. These types of contracts are akin to talent deals for child actors, though they may come with some public scrutiny
Platforms and their Accounts
Thanks to age restrictions set by Data Protection Laws, a child influencer typically can't officially own their social media account (as stated in the T&Cs). This measure aims to protect underage users and the platforms themselves. Thus, parents' consent is key to creating and managing the profile, with income usually belonging to the account holder, subject to any legal obligations with third parties.
Navigating Intellectual Property
While there's no age restriction on creating intellectual property, child influencers are unlikely to own copyright over their own work, though in certain circumstance the influencer may have intellectual property rights in the form of Performance Rights (s180(2) Copyright Design and Patent Act), but that is for another article. It's typically the parents who film or produce the content who hold the rights, even in cases where a third-party production company is used.
The Power of Corporate Structuring
For influencers' parents, using corporate structures is a smart move to mitigate legal risks and ensure tax efficiency. The company, not the individual, takes the lead in contracts with sponsors, and income is channelled into the company, which can then be paid out in dividends. While there's no age restriction on owning shares, there is on company directorship, so parents usually take on this role while the child is appointed as a shareholder.
Navigating Family Dynamics
In any family, disagreements are bound to occur. But what happens when those disagreements revolve around a child influencer, who holds the keys to their family's income and reputation? The child's career must be balanced with the parents' rights, known as Parental Responsibility (PR), outlined in Section 3(1) of the Children Act 1989.
These rights include determining education, medical decisions, name changes, accessing records, travel consent, legal representation, and religious upbringing. PR extends to the child's property, potentially affecting their role as an influencer.
In the event relations sour between a child influencer and their parents, it can spell doom for the Child’s burgeoning business. See “Influencer Parents and The Childs Who Had Their Childhood Made into Content”.
Two critical issues emerge: first, what if both parents can't agree on the child influencer’s role? Second, what rights do parents have over the commercial side, extending to finances, exposure, and privacy concerns? Consider 'Harry', a 12-year-old influencer with over 500,000 followers. His parents hold diametrically opposite views on his influencer status. Whilst she is supportive, his father worries about its impact on Harry's education and future.
This decision squarely falls under PR, potentially shaping Harry's life in profound ways. In the event the parents cannot agree, one parent may apply to the family court to step in as an objective party and decide in the child’s best interest. In reaching a decision, a court will take various factors into account including age, time commitments, and safeguarding children's professional rights before they reach the age of consent.
Recent reports highlight a regulatory gap in UK child labour laws, leaving child influencers without adequate protection. Some have become primary income sources for their families, yet they lack the same protections as child entertainers.
While there's currently limited case law on this matter, the surge in child influencers is likely to lead to a whole can of legal worms, making this an area well worth following.
If you require assistance with Commercial or Family law issues, our dedicated teams are ready to support you.