A Legal Analysis of Tiger King, Episode 1, Part 1: "Not Your Average Joe"

May 5, 2020

By: Thomas K. Rinaldi

What would it take to be Joe Exotic’s attorney? To steal a page from the first episode of the Netflix docuseries, “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” not your average attorney. Just imagine all the questions they’d confront: Will the former owner of G.W. Zoo sign the retainer agreement as “Joe Exotic” or “Tiger King?” And how hefty would that retainer have to be, to compensate for so many crazy issues? Will it cover the cost of all the Pepto-Bismol and Prilosec the attorney will need? Or is that extra? 

As general counsel to a variety of businesses, I have faced many unique problems. But none compare to the legal issues raised in the very first “Tiger King” episode, “Not Your Average Joe.” There were so many issues, in fact, I have decided to break my legal analysis of the episode into multiple parts. So, sit back, relax and enjoy a lawyer’s take on our introduction to the gun-toting operator of an Oklahoma big cat farm.

Why Enter a Work Made For Hire Agreement?

The episode opens with Rick Kirkham saying, “It was a crazy beginning.” I’d say so, what with folks riding in cars with lions and adults ice skating with tigers. Even so, the craziest thing that occurred was Joe Exotic allowing Rick Kirkham to film a documentary and produce Joe’s internet show without a properly negotiated contract.

As general counsel to G.W. Zoo and Mr. Exotic (who we see fire multiple rounds into a nearby lake and blow up mannequins), I would have advised a clearly written contract be drawn up between Joe and Mr. Kirkham, to ensure G.W. Zoo and Joe keep ownership of their brand and the internet television show footage. Such a document is known as a “work made for hire” agreement, and it should be in writing. Any business that uses a contractor to produce media (such as an internet television show to bash Carole Baskin) should have a work made for hire agreement in place to clarify who owns the film. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our legal analysis of Episode 1 later this week.

Don’t be like Joe. If you or your business use others to create media, please feel free to contact Thomas K. Rinaldi, a.k.a. the “Attorney Ordinary.” He will connect you with Bond’s intellectual property practice to discuss how to best protect your ownership interest in creative media.