Tokyopop speaks!

I e-mailed Tokyopop PR Director Susan Hale today to ask if the company had any response to the online criticism of their project (including my own). Here’s their statement, from “the TOKYOPOP Pilot Program Team, Paul Morrissey & Hope Donovan!” I’ll add a few of my comments afterwards.

The Pilot Program represents an exciting new stage in the development of original manga for TOKYOPOP, and one of the things we’re most excited about is having a brief, accessible contract—and being able to post it online.

We’ve made the contracts generic, to include as many creators as possible, and what you see is the same deal extended to everyone. We’re proud to be able to present these contracts as they are, so that love it or hate it, we’ve empowered potential manga creators to understand then terms long before they propose a project.

Making the contracts available to all is just the first positive step for TOKYOPOP that the Pilot Program represents. Of course we want our Pilots to be successful, and we want to work with Pilot creators to develop their Pilots into other media. And if we do so, an entirely new contract is drafted for that particular project—whether it be a full-length book deal, a film/TV deal, etc. However, TOKYOPOP realizes that some Pilots will not develop beyond their initial stage. And that’s why the Pilot Program is also progressive in returning rights to creators. For any Pilot that doesn’t pan out, the rights to the project are returned to the creator after the one-year Exclusive Period ends. After that, the creator is free to take that exact chapter created for us as well as the property anywhere they like-whether that’s self-publishing, publishing with another company or putting it on the back burner. At this point, for example, if the creator were to land a film/TV deal based on their Pilot property, TOKYOPOP would have no stake in that venture.

We cannot dictate the future of your project after the Exclusive Period ends. We only retain rights to those pages that were created for us, and have the right to adapt those existing pages as cell phone manga, imanga or other print publications. We do not have the right to create more material. We can’t add to your story or create new chapters—it belongs to you. We can only reprint the material you created for us.

We hope that the discussion generated from putting the contracts online helps potential creators to understand the deals that we offer. We urge you to talk about them, that’s right there in the contract. The deals may not be for everyone, but we’re glad that everyone can read and consider for themselves.

OK, this is Brigid again. One thing that this statement clarifies is that while Tokyopop will keep the rights to the Pilot pages that were created specifically for them (and which, after all, they paid for), they don’t claim any right to reuse the characters or write new stories based on your creations.

Another thing that’s interesting is that Tokyopop named the people who are the Manga Pilot team, although most likely some of those pesky Hollywood lawyers actually wrote the contract.

Heidi MacDonald and Tom Spurgeon weighed in today, so comics world condemnation of the contract is almost universal. On the other hand, Brad Fox, a filmmaker who has seen a lot of contracts, has a totally different reading and thinks that Tokyopop’s contract is similar to or better than standard contracts in a lot of ways—read the followup post as well, in which he learns why a lot of people don’t like Tokyopop, and suggests a solution. (Found via the comments on this post at Comics Worth Reading.)

Let me clarify here that while I was a book editor, I never was an acquiring editor—I never negotiated or even saw contracts. My experience in this field is limited to working with writers who were already under contract, and seeing how many different ways there are for things to go wrong, plus my own experiences as a freelancer. So I’ll leave the real contract-wrangling to the experts.

But there are still a few things that are bugging me:

1. If I recall correctly, the Zuda contract allows DC to keep the trademark for the comics created for their site, while allowing the creator to keep the copyright. I’d love to hear someone more knowledgeable than me compare the two contracts, or perhaps even do a compare-and-contrast with Platinum.

2. Take a look at the comics on the Manga Pilot site. So far, it’s not teenagers, it’s people who have a project or two under their belt. I’m still trying to figure out what that means.

3. Finally, I’m not sure why everyone is so shocked that Tokyopop has a contract that favors the publisher. They’re a for-profit corporation, not a charity, and it’s not in their job description to look out for the little guy. That’s why, when it’s time to sign a book deal, you hire an agent, who is paid to stand up for your interests.

In the meantime, the internet will have to do. I think the many bloggers writing about this have done young creators a service by telling them what to watch out for. I still think there may be good reasons for someone to do a Tokyopop pilot—for the paycheck, the exposure, or simply the experience of completing a work and working with editors. But they should do it with full awareness of the possible downside.

UPDATE: Johanna Draper Carlson got the same e-mail I did, and Slave Labor editor-in-chief Jennifer de Guzman does a quick comparison with Zuda:

This means the Tokyopop Pilot Program a lot less exploitive than Zuda, I think — that contract takes all rights for not much more money, and I don’t recall a response as vehement.

Which is what I suspected but wasn’t confident enough to say outright. I’m still open to other interpretations, though.

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  1. I think people are pissed off at least as much because of the manner in which TPop have expressed themselves as because of the substance of the contract. It’s one thing to offer a contract which requires the creator to sign away their moral rights; it’s quite another to say “You don’t want any of that ‘moral rights’ nonsense, why ‘moral rights’ are a fancy French idea! Ho ho ho!” It was facetious, chummy, condescending, and offensive.

    Zuda, on the other hand… it was a terrible contract, but a) what do you expect from the company that bought Superman for peanuts; b) the contract was at least straightforward and not pretending to be something it wasn’t.

  2. I recall the Zuda contracts causing a large bit of concern at the time. But it died down quickly because we knew it was coming from DC/Warner, which has an almost 7 decade history of screing creators over.
    But in the comic direct market, people tend to think of the non “Marvel and DC” stuff as more independent, more for creators rights, etc. So it shocks some folks to see a publisher who regularly courts licenses of big name manga talent to use contracts as bad as the “big guys” for original work for hire creations. (Although based on T-Pop’s sales in the mass market and book stores, they are certainly one of the big guys themselves)

  3. “That’s why, when it’s time to sign a book deal, you hire an agent, who is paid to stand up for your interests.”

    Most agents won’t bother to represent an artist for that little amount of money.
    A cut of $20 a page is not a lot worth fighting for on their part.
    Also, most young artists, even those who go to art school don’t know how to find an agent. There aren’t that many to go around and most don’t have websites with submission policies for the public. Luckily artists are getting smart and sharing info with other artists to help protect each other from being taken advantage of.

  4. Dave, you’re right, I was probably too glib on that. I think with a longer deal, though, it’s worth it to at least hire a lawyer and talk to a more experienced artist who might know the pitfalls of contracts.

    Also, just the fact that Tokyopop and Zuda are publishing their contracts is a step in the right direction. It sets a minimum standard and allows people to start talking about what they would and wouldn’t find acceptable.

    Katherine and thekamisama, I don’t understand why people are OK with giving DC a free pass on this just because they have done it before. And I think the notion that a smaller company would have a better contract is fallacious. A publisher has to make money to survive, and any contract negotiation is a balance between what the company is willing to give the creator in order to get him or her to sign on, and what the company wants or needs to keep for itself in order to make money and stay alive. If anything, a smaller company has to be tougher in each individual contract because it will have fewer other properties to rely on. Put it this way: DC can afford to be generous; they have Superman. Tokyopop doesn’t.

  5. It’s not that people give DC a free pass; it’s just that “DC screws over talent” is not new, and therefore not worth making a fuss about. “I’m not talking about this because I’m giving DC a free pass” and “I’m not talking about this because DC have behaved no more or less badly than I expected” look exactly the same from the outside.


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