In the early 1990s, several teenage movie stars legally emancipated themselves from their parents. Sometimes, the situation had to do with money: as minors, the movie stars’ income legally belonged to their parents, who could allegedly squander the money and leave the actors penniless. Sometimes, the situation had to do with labor laws and the limitations on minors filming outside of school hours. Today, a handful of states have a Coogan law – named after 1920s child star Jackie Coogan – that requires parents of minor actors to set aside a percentage of the child’s earnings in a trust.
Unfortunately for child actors even in Coogan law states, such as California and New York, unscrupulous parents could use plenty of loopholes to still get a chunk of their kids’ income. The situation has improved over time with reforms to legislation, but seventeen states still have no distinct legal protections for minor actors and their income.
New Legislation May Impact Financial Literacy for Today’s Teens and Tomorrow’s Parents
Of course, the vast, vast majority of parents and children never had to worry about the Coogan law situation – they received no income from acting! Today, however, social media has changed the landscape of acting. Thanks to posting on popular apps like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, parents and their children can go viral and rack up millions of views. Mommy influencers with many thousands of subscribers can get paid to promote products on Instagram and other sites. On video streaming sites like TikTok and YouTube, content creators get paid for the amount of streamers they bring in.
In recent years, some tensions have erupted as the children of mommy influencers and mommy bloggers have gotten old enough to feel like their privacy has been violated. Similar to the child stars of the ‘80s and ‘90s, some complain about the pressure to help constantly generate content. The possibility that today’s parenting influencers are not operating in the best interest of their child “actor” has led to Illinois becoming the first state to pass a modern-day Coogan law that deals with revenue from online sharing. If a child is featured in at least 30 percent of a parent’s online content over a 30-day period, and a video makes at least 10 cents in revenue, a portion of that revenue must be set aside in a trust for the featured child.
Due to the low barriers of entry to becoming a parenting influencer or child social media star, it is important for this topic to be added to basic financial literacy courses. Teenagers should know the laws concerning their own compensation for being a child actor in revenue-generating online videos and for their future children. Even as adults, the legal landscape for revenue-sharing from online and streaming videos will likely change, as evidenced by the SAG-AFTRA strike in Hollywood.
Many people, both adults and minors, have had a hand in creating revenue-generating content over the past few years and have seen little or no compensation. In the near future, online content creators will likely have additional responsibilities to ensure that contributors (actors, writers, etc.) are adequately compensated if that content goes viral and generates revenue. Today’s high school and college students who do not learn about this new field in a personal financial literacy (PFL) class may face financial penalties and even lawsuits if they fail to compensate their online video contributors.