The upcoming reality show Kid Nation was designed to show what happens when 40 children, ages 8 to 15, are thrown together in a desert "ghost town" to manage their own community for 40 days. Parents and commentators across the country are appalled by the idea that the kids were left largely unsupervised, and that some were injured in mishaps including four children who drank bleach and one who was burned in the face with hot grease.
CBS maintains that their set was legal and adequately safe and supervised. While that investigation goes on, details are coming out about the contract that the parents signed on behalf of their children. It appears that after the 40 days of "reality" filming were over, the children were contractually bound to an unlimited breach of privacy. According to The New York Times, which obtained a copy of the 22-page agreement, when parents signed the contract, they sold the rights to their children's life stories "in perpetuity and throughout the universe" for a measly $5000 (with possible episode-winning bonuses of $20,000). Presumably the contract was vetted by lawyers, so it may be legal to sign away a child's rights in this way, but to me it is an unconscionable moral breach of a child's privacy to do so, regardless of the dollar amount being offered.
The Times added that rights purchased by CBS and the production company included "the right to portray the children either accurately or with fictionalization 'to achieve a humorous or satirical effect.'" The entire contract is posted on The Smoking Gun under the headline, No Human Rights in "Kid Nation."
What do the kids think about all this? We can't know because the agreement also included a confidentiality clause with a $5 million penalty for unauthorized breaches.
Why would any parent sign sell their child out in this way? The specter of celebrity hangs over the whole situation. For some parents and kids, the loss of privacy may seem like a small price to pay for a chance at a "role" on national television. For the rest of us, it is a normal life that is priceless.
I question the ultimate enforceability of signing up any child for a perpetual agreement like the one created by CBS. If we ever do hear the behind-the-scenes details of Kid Nation, the story may come out in a court room rather than Entertainment Tonight.