Tokyopop Signals Willingness to Discuss OEL Rights Return, But Contradictory Offer Lacks Details

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Per the official Tokyopop Manga Twitter account, the question was asked at last weekend’s Anime Expo convention whether Tokyopop would consider returning rights to the creators for the OEL manga (original graphic novels) they are holding onto. The two-part answer was

… the creators need to come to him to get the rights back. He can’t track them all down. And since they all have contracts, there will need to be some negotiations. But it’s not like Stu won’t give rights back at all.

Stu is Stu Levy, owner of the company. Followup Tweets didn’t sound quite so optimistic:

But this is business. If one party owns partial rights of a property and the other party wants all the rights… That party would buy the others out. Works like that in every other business, no? I know that sounds so insensitive, but we did pay the creators for these works. It’s not as though we got them for free. ^_^;;;;

The smiley face there really makes the message, don’t you think? Without knowing what conditions Stu wants to impose upon this deal, it’s hard to determine how serious this “offer” actually is. If, for example, Stu wanted full repayment for all money spent by Tokyopop, including page rate for original creation, I would imagine those negotiations wouldn’t go very far. Without more specifics, this appears to be a way to attempt to paper over the poor reputation Levy has with fans without actually taking any action.

More significantly, an actual OEL creator indicated that this was either a recent change or a misrepresentation, tweeting

Huh, about 6 months ago, Stu was a blanket “no” when we asked to buy back rights. This has def changed?

At that point, the Twitter account backed off the claim:

I was under the impression it had yesterday, but obviously you need to speak to him directly.

This might be another sudden Levy change of mind that messes up the business, much like his abrupt decision to stop publishing last year. Let’s hope he actually meant this one, instead of just saying what he thought the questioner wanted to hear.

By the way, a number of fans were disappointed that the much-plugged Tokyopop panel at the show didn’t allow any time for questions and answers, instead spending time recapping a history of the company and Stu Levy’s accomplishments. Another mismatch between fan and publisher wants appears to be the company’s desire to continue with film and TV projects, such as the disappointing America’s Greatest Otaku. Fans just want the series they were following completed in print.

Update: I just discovered Stu himself weighed in on his Twitter account:

I have an open door. Any creator can come discuss w me whenever. Some have; many haven’t. I am an always have been a fair partner. Each OEL contract is individual and if there is a fair proposition we work it out. but please understood there are multiple partners involved and any agreement has to consider the interests of each partner.

The multiple uses of the word “fair” are discouraging, since that’s such a nebulous concept in business and can’t be quantified. I’m guessing we’re not going to see any actual OEL right status changes as a result of this.

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