Tokyopop’s Contract Response

I sent a query to Tokyopop’s PR contact asking “Does Tokyopop have a response [to the Manga Pilots uproar]? Are any changes in the contract planned?” In return, I got this back, described as the official TP statement from the Pilot Program team, Paul Morrissey and Hope Donovan:

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 the 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.

So the answer would be, they stand behind what they put out there, and they’re aggressively pushing the positive. At least this statement is in more standard, less “hip” language.

19 Comments

  1. “At least this statement is in more standard, less “hip” language.”

    But not, we should note, in French.

  2. Jennifer de Guzman

    Thanks for this, Johanna! I was curious about secondary rights and such. 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. It’s probably because the Tokyopop “pact” was just so stupidly written.

  3. I suspect you’re right — presentation counts for a lot. And I think the audience reacting to all this is already suspicious of a company like DC, but a younger manga company is thought to be more progressive, more of a “good guy”, so it’s more disheartening to find out otherwise.

  4. I’m still way dubious because, hey, a press release isn’t legally binding [*], but a contract you sign sure is.

    They can say whatever they want, but if they really care about doing the right thing, they’ll toss the crappy contract and write one which won’t be vilified by working comics creators as the worst contract in the history of comics.

    [*] It might be evidence in a lawsuit. Oh, wait, no lawsuits — only arbitration!

  5. “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.”

    See, now THAT is plain language. This is a useful clarification. Too bad it isn’t in the contract, though.

    And I still don’t buy that comics creators’ names ever should be cut from any media presentation. It isn’t like Tokyopop won’t find a way to put their logo in there somewhere no matter HOW small the screen is… so why can’t the content creator get the same consideration? etc, etc….

  6. [...] 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 [...]

  7. It is a little strange that the contract is so poorly written yet the press release is so nice and formal. Talking down to potential applicants under the assumption that they can’t understand good grammar and big words, hmm? (Okay, I’m being a pessimist and a smartass.)

    Utter tangent: This controversy really highlights the fact that aspiring “manga” creators don’t seem to have much of an option outside of TokyoPop. Would there be such an uproar if there were four or five other such competitions that might treat the creators better? If so, we might be able to just say, “Eh, stay away from this one, it isn’t good for your health.” But there really isn’t an alternative venue, unless one would like to brave the American industry. For whatever reason – intimidation, disinterest – OEL creators don’t really see that as a comparable option.

    Unless there are other options…?

    (There are alternatives for BL/”yaoi” OEL creators. There is even a BL anthology magazine. But that sprung from a niche market/grassroots community and is consumed by only a small number of women. I have no idea how their contracts compare with TokyoPop, either.)

  8. If there is not specific language in a contract that bars certain events, then those certain events can and will happen, no matter what the creator thinks might happen or not happen. THAT is specifically why contracts are so wordy and convoluted.

    Also, let’s say you are the lucky person who creates a hit. Tokyopop could potentially make $2 million in the first year, and you would make $750. Perhaps in the second year, the property cools because the next greatest thing comes along, and your creation only makes $10,000. You have certainly lost a boat load of income. And what if Tokyopop goes ahead and makes a side deal with a movie production company. Your movie rights to your own creation could be tied up in court for a decade before you get them back.

    Simple contracts usually mean somebody is going to get taken for a ride.

  9. Alan, if you read the contract you will see that any book deal is negotiated separately. The $750 is only for the pilot. The contract also states that if Tokyopop makes a movie deal they will pay the creator “customary royalties,” although that’s awfully vague.

    Also, no one makes $2 million on global manga. I’m guessing that even $10,000 would be a stretch for most properties.

  10. “And I still don’t buy that comics creators’ names ever should be cut from any media presentation.”

    Me, I’d worry about the work being presented in some ways that won’t support the creator’s name — if that can’t be effectively presented, how is my art going to survive?

  11. Wow, accentuate the positive, much?

    A different load of happy horseshit in clearer language.

    Not being down with the Zuda agreements, either, I’d dismissed their contest as likewise useless (and bullshit). I’d be interested in a side-by-side comparison that demonstrates Zuda is worse.

    I do recall that their contracts were vague and cutesy, too, which is why I made fun of them in the lolcomics LJ:

    http://lolcomics.livejournal.com/5157.html

    Last year, Fleen did what I think is a pretty good dissection of the Zuda Contract:
    http://www.fleen.com/archives/2007/09/25/raw-zudanotes-ii-rights-agreement/

    UNLIKE the TP contract, it is written in English, with childish jokes about droit moral, and “Hey, baby, I’ll do my best but sometimes I’m gonna forget who you are.”

    Rights-wise, it’s not good (which is why I can’t believe anyone with a frontal lobe would enter and OH MY GOD am I tired of hearing “I’m not giving them my BEST idea”) it’s still not as bad as TP’s.

    Fleen concludes:
    “Four elements of the Creator’s Bill of Rights — right to accounting, legal counsel, prompt payment, and original artwork — are addressed in this contract. In fact, as others have pointed out, Zuda is recommending that you get a lawyer to advise you on the contracts before you decide to submit, so that’s actually progress. Unfortunately, the other eight — especially the first, The right to full ownership of what we fully create — are wavied under this contract.”

    And there’s no reasonable argument that TP’s contract is better after that. Their is no waiving of droit moral, there is a right to legal counsel, not an LA-based commercial arbitrator picked by TP, and so on.

    I never thought I’d say this, but if one must choose a woodchipper to throw themselves into, DC’s is better than TP’s.

  12. Riot, there are other options than TP. I’m thinking, for example, of Red String, which started as a webcomic and then was published by Dark Horse. OEL creators don’t think of them for the same reason there are superhero fans who only want to write Spider-Man for Marvel — it’s not really about creating individual visions in comics, but about wanting to be part of something you loved when you were young. And companies take advantage of that.

  13. [...] Draper Carlson (who’s been covering the hell out of this story by the way) already has a statement back from the company. Note this little piece: Making the contracts available to all is just the first [...]

  14. Jennifer de Guzman

    Lea, the part of the Zuda contract that I was thinking of is this (forgive me, it’s in standard legalese, so it’s long — full contract is here: http://www.zudacomics.com/rights_agreement):

    “You grant and assign to Zuda, its successors, licensees and assigns, solely and exclusively, in any and all languages and media, whether now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe, for the term of copyright, all rights in and to the Material (collectively, the “Rights”). As used herein, “Material” means the Submission and the literary work written and/or drawn, and/or to be written and/or drawn, by You as well as other adaptations or versions thereof now existing or hereafter created, whether created by You, Zuda or third parties, including the title of the work, the art and script comprising the work and the concepts, plots, themes, storylines, characters (including names and images), environmental settings, devices, characterizations, logos, trademarks and designs and other elements to the extent included in the work.”

    The contract says the creators retain copyright, but after all that, it’s pretty much an ownership of rights with few benefits of ownership because you grant them to Zuda for as long as you hold copyright. It’s like having moral rights in name but not practice, I think. You develop this story and characters, and then DC can do whatever we want with them, including creating new content, and we own all the rights — they pay royalties, though.

    The statement from TP says that they cannot create and own new material based on your work. I’m not seeing anything in the “pact” that specifically excludes that, though.

    I should stop — I don’t like commenting on other companies’ contracts, but this interests me because I’ve been pondering for a while how publishers can insure they benefit from the investment they put into creators without stepping on those creators’ rights. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no way to get real insurance. You just have to try do good by creators and hope to gain their loyalty.

  15. Jennifer de Guzman

    “DC can do whatever THEY want with them… THEY own…” that should be. I reworded that and didn’t change all the pronouns!

  16. Steve Horton

    I should point out that the recent BEA book convention shows that OEL manga is very much in demand right now – as graphic novels in the book industry! The best part is – you get to keep your rights.

  17. Steve: which means places to direct the hopefuls to!

  18. Steve Horton

    My upcoming how-to manga book has a big section about getting an agent and getting into the book industry. In hindsight, if I know know what I knew when I finished it, I would have been more critical of TokyoPop.

  19. [...] attempted to revamp the program in 2008 with Manga Pilots, which caused a lot of outrage (and leading to my list of Tokyopop’s biggest mistakes). At [...]

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