The world's premier modelling agencies are being sued for hundreds of millions of pounds in a class action that accuses them of fixing fees for the past 30 years.
Six models are seeking to recover fees and claiming damages. If their claim is successful it will force the modelling agencies, including the world's two biggest, Elite and Ford, to compensate thousands more models.
The allegations that eight agencies conspired to keep fees artificially high are contained in a 37-page complaint lodged with the New York federal court. One model involved in the action said she was finally taking a stand against an industry that exploited young people.
Brian Rishwain, a model-turned-lawyer who began to gather names to bring the lawsuit after models came to him with their complaints, said: "This has been a fix for the last 30 years. The public perception of models is of them sitting on the beach and ringing up the cash register all day long. I can tell you that is not true. The majority are struggling because the agencies are ripping them off."
The accusations are vehemently denied by the agencies.
The document, obtained by The Independent on Sunday, accuses agencies of taking a standard 20 per cent cut when finding models work. "Models who threaten to complain are told they will be blackballed," says the document, adding: "The agencies' control over employment opportunities gives them little alternative but to acquiesce."
The anti-trust lawsuit shares similarities to litigation brought against the auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's, which were convicted of price- fixing in 2000. The same New York law firm involved in part of that action is representing the six models.
None of the six is in the supermodel class. Supermodels can dictate their own fees and the cut they pay to their agencies using their own lawyers. "The reality of the modelling business ... is quite different from how the profession is depicted," the court papers say. "The models are given form contracts which the agencies claim are `standard' and not subject to negotiation."
The case centres on the 20 per cent cut taken by the agencies. The law in New York limits employment agencies to a 10 per cent fee for finding people work. The modelling agencies, it is claimed, re- branded themselves as management companies in the 1970s to circumvent the law.
Carolyn Fears, one of the models involved, told The Independent on Sunday she was now prepared to risk her future career - after 13 years in the business - to expose the practices and help younger models starting out. …