Business Law & Compliance

The Simpsons star Harry Shearer first contract dispute casualty after stats show litigation rise

4 min read

14 May 2015

Many Simpsons fans are lamenting the potential departure of Harry Shearer, which took the media by full force. This news comes hand-in-hand with litigation figures, suggesting that contract disputes are on the rise.

We are by no means strangers to contract disputes. In 2014, Hachette Book Group’s contract was set to expire with Amazon. The latter wanted to negotiate terms to extend the contract, with a new condition being that Hachette lower e-book prices to $9.99. Of course, Hachette was unhappy. 

When Amazon extended its under current terms, it punished Hachette by ensuring that customers couldn’t pre-order its books any longer. Those that could be ordered would also take weeks to be delivered.

It’s certainly not the last we’ll see as contract disputes are common factors in any workplace. Moreover, the trend actually seems to be increasing.

Norton Rose Fulbright’s 2015 Litigation Trends Annual Survey indicated that the increasing number of class action lawsuits and a more litigious business environment were the most important issues impacting respondents’ companies.

Gerry Pecht, global head of dispute resolution and litigation at Norton Rose Fulbright, said: “What we are seeing is a direct response to the ever-broadening array of legal and regulatory challenges that companies face today. As the business environment becomes more complex, companies are spending more out of necessity to protect their interests and ensure that they are represented properly.”

Digging deeper into the subject, Real Business found that frivolous lawsuits and an increase in litigation were ranked among the UK’s top issues.

Companies have to be more flexible in the wording of contracts, which in itself tends to introduce an element of risk, suggested Jacob Turner of Citigroup Global Markets Asia. Market practice has seemingly changed so there is more pressure to compromise with clients on contract templates.

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Shantini Sanmuganathan of SingTel said: “Often contracts can be complex, and if the business doesn’t put in place adequate resources to manage the contract, we can get into disputes. The challenge sometimes is getting the business to acknowledge and appreciate that this is a resource they need to have.” 

According to Norton Rose Fulbright, the legal environment is only expected to grow in its complexity. Overall, 25 per cent of survey respondents anticipate litigation against their companies increasing in the next 12 months, and half of all respondents have spent more time during the last three years addressing regulatory requests or enforcement proceedings.

Of the 20 categories of pending litigation their companies could be faced with, contracts was in first place.

Almost immediately after the release of the data, the media became hooked on the news that Harry Shearer will be leaving The Simpsons. He may not have physically graced the screen, but he endeared us to characters such as Mr Burns, Ned Flanders, Waylon Smithers and Principal Skinner by providing his voice.

The reason? A contract dispute, of course.

Shearer has been with The Simpsons since its origins, but was the lone cast holdout in the latest round of negotiations, when the rest of the talent signed on for seasons 27 and 28. Shearer took to Twitter for support:

Aside from wondering what TV producers will do since Shearer is probably 50 per cent of the voices on the show, it’s quite worrying that Norton Rose figures suggest that contract disputes are steadily increasing.