Tokyopop: The two-minute hate is over

Here are some links to more Tokyopop commentary, but before we get to that, I want to point something out: The Manga Pilot contract may be deeply flawed, but it only applies to the Manga Pilot. As people are starting to realize, Tokyopop isn’t taking all future development rights with this contract. All subsequent projects, such as a full-length manga series or a movie, are negotiated separately, presumably with your lawyer and agent looking over all the legalese. Also, at the end of the term, Tokyopop keeps non-exclusive rights to the manga pilot, meaning they can keep putting it on their website or whatever, but they can’t churn out their own manga based on your characters. (This last part was clarified in their press release but, admittedly, isn’t obvious from the contract itself.)

Brad Fox answers my question from a previous post and does a quick comparison of Tokyopop and Zuda. His answer may surprise you:

It’s way to late to do a point by point breakdown – but I did do a scan of the standard Zudacomics rights agreement, and for my money the TokyoPop one is far preferable.

The biggest benefit to the TokyoPop contract is that at the conclusion of the pilot either party can “walk away” with all the rights (except for publishing and exhibiting the pilot) reverting to the creator.

Whereas Zuda can keep the rights to your creation tied up for years. John Jakala of Sporadic Sequential also reads the contract and concludes that it’s not that terrible.

At The Beat, Heidi MacDonald takes a long look at the whole thing and concludes that it may not be the worst contract out there, although the possibility of exploiting the young and the enthusiastic is still troubling.

Other thoughts: ANN has an in-depth article, and I almost forgot the big ol’ forum thread at the Tokyopop site (mainly because I would never have found it if ANN hadn’t linked it).

Gia speaks to the evil-Tokyopop aspect:

Maybe it’s because I know some TOKYOPOP employees, but I don’t think they’re just out to ruin creators lives. I suspect that global manga doesn’t sell very well on average, and therefore I think they’re struggling, perhaps desperately, to find a way to make money on something that they’ve made a significant aspect of their business plan.

I agree with her. Lori Henderson, on the other hand, sees the pact as not only evil but of a piece with Tokyopop’s other practices. Lea Hernandez compares the Pilot contract to the Rising Stars of Manga contract.

Bill Randall points out that Japanese licenses are a risky foundation for a publishing business, and that Tokyopop has a deliberate strategy of developing global projects so they can exploit the rights, not just for comics but also for movies and other media.

Shutterbox creator Rikki Simons, who has a somewhat better contract with Tokyopop, gives his take on the whole thing.

At Icarus Comics (NSFW), Simon Jones concludes:

In all honesty, when broken down, the individual parts of the contract aren’t out of the ordinary, or even bad for the various media they cover (even the “publisher indemnity against infringement claims” clause is unfortunately industry standard). It’s the all-inclusiveness of this pact, the pre-emptive condensing of dozens of secondary uses/subsidiary rights to one single entity, that’s raising everyone’s alarms. If they would just take these things on as they come, there probably wouldn’t be a single objection to this program.

Actually, there would, because as we have learned over the past few days, lots of people don’t like Tokyopop for reasons of their own. Which is legitimate in its own way but doesn’t make them lawyers. Much of the commentary on this came from people who were getting things secondhand and didn’t actually read the contract. The advice to creators remains the same: Even for a short piece, read the contract, show it to a lawyer or agent if you can, and think very hard before signing about what the tradeoffs are.

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  1. Just a clarification to Brad’s point here: “The biggest benefit to the TokyoPop contract is that at the conclusion of the pilot either party can “walk away” with all the rights (except for publishing and exhibiting the pilot) reverting to the creator.”

    As I understand it, once the one-year Exclusive Period of the Manga Pilot ends, both parties are free to publish and exhibit the Pilot, so even there the rights semi-revert to the creator. The only thing I wasn’t clear on is whether the creator could allow someone else to publish cell phone manga of the Pilot, since the contract says Tokyopop retains exclusive rights to publish the Pilot in the iManga format.

    Here’s the relevant section from the contract: ““Non-exclusive” means that both we and you can publish it and give others the right to publish it other formats. We’ll own and continue to have the exclusive right to publish any iManga or other adaptations that we make based on your Manga Pilot.”

    Reading it again, I think that’s saying Tokyopop would retain the rights to continue to publish any adaption they had made (such as an iManga version of the Pilot), but it wouldn’t preclude the creator from coming up with a similar adaptation of their own.

  2. I think the minutae is missing the point.

    Working on somone else’s property in a work-for-hire situation pays more per page than the roughly $20 a page for plot, script, pencils, inks, tones and letters of your own property that will be locked in at T-Pop for 1-2 years. It’s almost as if they’re paying to lock the IP, but get all the other work for free.

    The chance of continuing on at T-pop is, I guess, supposed to be the trade-off. I know a lot of people who work on their own projects and get paid nothing, but they have the option of approaching any publisher they please.

    As with anything else, people should just understand what they’re agreeing to.

  3. I don’t really mind Tokyopop wanting to turn a profit, but do they have to do it in such a condescending and insulting way? They could have easily written a contract in easy to understand terms, without the “dudespeak”, and without insulting a country and culture.

    Tokyopop comes off to me as a company that can come up with great ideas, but not a clue with how to implement them properly.

  4. Susie, good point. I think the conventional wisdom in work-for-hire is you should get paid a lot to compensate for the rights you’re signing away.

    I don’t do comics, so I don’t know how much work goes into making the pilot, but for a beginning comics creator there could be other benefits as well as the money—not just the possibility of a book deal but also the experience of creating and polishing a piece, working with editors, and getting your work out in a public space where people can see it. I started out as a writer doing articles for an NGO’s magazine. I didn’t get paid, but I did learn how to plan and write an article, take notes during an interview—all the nuts and bolts—plus I wound up with a handful of really nice tearsheets that helped me get paying work. I wasn’t being exploited because I knew what I was doing.

    Lori, I agree about the language. And while there are plenty of things to legitimately poke fun at the French about (I used to live there), that dig was gratuitous.