In 1939 the first financial protection act for child performers was put in place in California as the result of child-actor Jackie Coogan’s mother and step-father plundering his childhood earnings without his knowledge. Jackie Coogan was four years old when he began performing in vaudeville acts. It was at his Los Angeles vaudeville performance that Charlie Chaplin discovered him and launched Jackie’s career as a child star. Throughout the 1920’s Jackie’s fame soared, making what he believed to be around four million dollars. However, at that time in California any income a child made was presumed to go to a parent. When Jackie turned twenty-one he discovered that his mother and step-father (his previous manager) had spent all of his three-to-four million dollar fortune, leaving him indigent. In 1938, at twenty-three years old, Jackie sued his mother. He recovered only $126,000. As a result of this litigation, the Coogan Act was quickly passed in California with hopes of offering financial protection to child-performers and their income. The Coogan Act requires minor-entertainers to have a trust account in which a certain percentage of the minor’s earnings get deposited without any guardian or business manager touching it and becoming available only to the minor. Since then, there have been a slow-growing number of States passing similar legislation to protect the finances of minors in the entertainment industry.
Now, Georgia is hopefully joining the club. House Bill 838, soon to have an Act title, has been proposed to regulate the employment and compensation of minors in the entertainment industry. For the music industry (and beyond), this law will apply to any minor compensated through creating phonographic records, performing concerts, and the use of the minor’s name, likeness, or image. If you are the guardian or employer of the minor, it is very important you understand this process. Essentially, the following steps explain what this law, once passed, would look like applied to an under-eighteen-child’s entertainment career:
Step 1: Setup the Minor’s Trust Account
HB 838 Section 2(a) specifies the minimum requirements for setting up the minor’s trust account.
- At least 15% of the minor’s gross earnings must be deposited into the account.
- These funds are to be available only to the minor – not the guardian or any business manager.
- The account must be held by a trust company.
- The funds are available for use only when one of the following happens:
- The minor turns 18; OR
- The minor is declared emancipated.
- The account meets the requirements of Article 5 of Chapter 5 of Title 44, the ‘Georgia Transfers to Minors Act.’ (These are the laws relating to property transfers to minors—any good banker should be able to ensure the account meets these requirements, but always ask questions to better understand.)
Once you, the guardian, have set up a trust account for the minor, proceed to Step 2.
Step 2: The Commissioner of Labor must give written consent for the minor’s employment.
As it stands now, HB 838 Section 1(b) states: “Before the Commissioner of Labor shall give his or her written consent…he or she shall investigate and determine that:
(1) The environment in which the work is to be performed is proper for the minor;
(2) The conditions of employment or compensation are not detrimental to the health of the minor;
(3) The minor’s education will not be neglected or hampered by his or her participation in any of the activities referred to in subsection (a) of this Code section;
(4) The minor will not be used for pornographic purposes; and
(5) The minor’s parent or legal guardian has established a trust account pursuant to Code Section 39-2-18.1 that designates the minor as the beneficiary.”
After the Commissioner of Labor has given you, the guardian, written consent for the minor’s employment, then proceed to Step 3.
Step 3: Provide the employer with the trust account information necessary to transfer the funds.
This is pretty straightforward. The label or publisher needs to know how to pay the minor’s appropriate percentage of gross income to the trust account since you can’t touch it. Give them the right information so they can deposit the funds. However, the TRUSTEE, not the employer, has a duty to monitor the account to make sure the amount and frequency of payments is correct.
If you fail to provide the label or publisher with the trust account information within 30 days of the minor’s employment, then the funds that were to be transferred to the trust account are to be reported and remitted (sent) to the commissioner of revenue. Note that this doesn’t mean you don’t already have an account setup, you must have that for the minor to begin working. This just means you must give the information to the employer for the right amount of funds to be put into the minor’s account.
Martin Weil, Jack Coogan, First Child Film Star, Dies at 69, Washington Post (March 2, 1984), https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1984/03/02/jackie-coogan-first-child-film-star-dies-at-69/d092ba1c-3abc-4c85-bef2-696181c5bfdc/
 Jennifer Gonzalez, More Than Pocket Money: A History of Child Actor Laws, Library of Congress (June 1, 2022), https://blogs.loc.gov/law/2022/06/more-than-pocket-money-a-history-of-child-actor-laws/