Tokyopop: Hey, dude, totally bad contract!
UPDATE: Check out Johanna’s list of Tokyopop’s greatest mistakes over the past two years:
The reviews are in! And Tokyopop’s online contract for the new “Manga Pilot” program has been dubbed everything from “appalling” to “vile” to “the most childish and disingenuous legal document I have ever read.”
What is it? Basically, Tokyopop has started the next iteration of their “Rising Stars of Manga contest/OEL” method of developing IP and talent, with their “Manga PIlot” program:
In this new program, promising manga creators are selected and hired by our editorial team to create a 24-to-36-page “pilot”—a short-form manga that will be used to determine whether or not a full-length manga will be created. The Manga Pilot will be published online for TOKYOPOP community members to review, rate, and discuss.
The contract for this program is posted at the link above, and it drew sharp, immediate and universal condemnation, starting with Lea Hernandez, for such passages as this:
““MORAL RIGHTS” AND YOUR CREDIT
“Moral rights” is a fancy term (the French thought it up) that basically has to do with having your name attached to your creation (your credit!) and the right to approve or disapprove certain changes to your creation. Of course, we want you to get credit for your creation, and we want to work with you in case there are changes, but we want to do so under the terms in this pact instead of under fancy French idea. So, in order for us to adapt the Manga Pilot for different media, and to determine how we should include your credit in tough situations, you agree to give up any “moral rights” you might have.”
To which Lea wrote:
There you have it, folks: Moral Rights are dumb because the French thought of them, so give them up.
Normally mild-mannered Bryan Lee O’Malley then stepped in with a crushing condemnation:
I’m going to go through this piece of shit with you, because I’m sure a lot of aspiring cartoonists read my blog and I want to do my part to help you all have a future.
Read my bloggy lips: if you sign this contract, say goodbye to THE FUTURE.
I’m not going to speculate about where they’re being untruthful. I’m just going to let them say what they’re saying. It’s bad enough.
The amount of compensation for giving up your rights was blank in the contract, but Niki Smith says the rate was $750 — or $20 a page.
“We may feel it’s important to test a second installment of your story, so you give us the right to ask you to do a second Manga Pilot based on the Property. … We’ll pay you another Pilot Fee when you deliver and we accept the second Manga Pilot.”
—So they can have you do another 24-36 pages for only $750, instead of signing a contract where you get better rates and more rights. $750 for 36 pages = a $20 page rate. $20 for something that can take two days? Not a wonderful deal.
I can see why they wouldn’t give a page rate– everyone would be doing longer stories if they could, adding in extra pages. But $20 for (over) a day’s work is awful. Doing one chapter at that rate is bad enough, but they have the right to request another one with the same pay?
Some more reactions: Simon Jones:
But I will make the general observation that convoluted contract shenanigans seem to be symptomatic of a comics publishing industry that no longer sees the comics publishing part as its number one priority. Be it publishers who don’t focus on putting out books, or artists who worry their heads off over secondary rights before they draw their first page, this is all a horrible way to go about making comics.
Oh man, this is just appalling.
The long and short of it is that Tokyopop wants to swindle young, impressionable comic-book creators out of their creative property and also magages to insult the French for having IDEAS. You know, ideas that influenced modern jurisprudence. Dear lord.
And Tokyopop themselves have made it abundantly clear that there are all sorts of good reasons for staying the hell away from them, all packed into one ugly, evil document: The contract for their Manga Pilot program.
I want to ask Tokyopop why they feel they need to do this. They could easily rise to the forefront of young adult comics publishing and offer great opportunities for new artists. Instead they’re shooting their reputation in the foot (not that they care or won’t cash in anyway) and losing respect one new evil move at a time.
Our email and IMs lit up with this contract and people seem to keep finding even more and more alarming clauses, such as our correspondent who pointed to this from the contract:
USING MEDIATION AND ARBITRATION If you and we can’t work things out after giving it the ol’ college try, we’ll each have the right to bring the issue to mediation in Los Angeles, California.
If you and we can’t resolve the issue through mediation, you and we each will have the right to bring the issue to binding arbitration, also in Los Angeles County, California. You and we agree to use JAMS, an alternative dispute resolution service, for any mediation or arbitration.
Mediation and arbitration are less expensive ways than litigation in court to help you and us solve any problems arising under this pact. California law will apply to interpreting this pact. Since this pact is an agreement in the legal sense, once you and we have signed it, it’s legally binding on you and us and your and our heirs, successors, and assigns.
Our correspondent pointed out that by stipulating that arbitration must take place in LA, many people won’t be able to afford to fly in for a hearing. (At $20 a page, who could?) Our correspondent went on to write:
But what really concerned me was that you waive your right to litigation with this contract. You agree only to arbitration or mediation, which you agree will be legally binding. So no appeals if you lose. And the arbitration will be done by a company named JAMS. This is the JAMS web site. It’s a private conflict resolution company. So in the case of dispute, occording to this contract, you agree to waive your rights to use the US judicial system, and instead you agree that whatever this private company decides will be legally binding. Oh, and you have to show up in LA or you lose.
There’s also this little tidbit: SCAD doesn’t allow Toykopop editors to come and recruit at the school any more.
Wow, where to begin. Starting with the disingenuous, smarmy language of this “contract,” we can’t believe that whoever okayed it at Tokyopop wasn’t seriously on meds to allow it to go up. It is a phony, arbitrary and patronizing document that sounds more like something that might come out of the mouth of a pimp trying to coax a runaway into a life at the House of the Rising Sun. For comparison, just go listen to Foulfellow in PINNOCHIO. You know, the Foufellow who called himself “Honest John.”
By sheer coincidence, a few months or so ago we were working on a round-up/epitaph for Tokyopop’s “OEL/global manga” line. While the practical effect was to throw a hundred new, original concepts on the racks in hopes that something would stick, the net effect was to train a whole generation of cartoonists, including Svetlana Chmakova, Queenie Chan, Rivkah, Felipe Smith, Amy Reeder Hadley, Joanna Estep, Joshua Elder, Ross Campbell, M. Alice LeGrow and dozens more. The OEL contract was never favorable to the creators — who surrendered trademark and copyright in exchange for a low page rate. Back in the day, many of these very young, never before published creators defended the contract as a means to get in print, and it is true that many of these creators are rising stars, but none of them have stuck solely with Tokyopop. There must be a reason for that.
Back in March, Johanna had this to say about the OEL line:
I’ve been thinking lately, as Tokyopop’s OEL series come to their ends, about whether these young creators have been given the help and support they need. Tokyopop claims shared copyrights on these works, for which one presumes they had some input into them. (The suspicious say that it’s just a way to manipulate creators unaware of their business choices and take more profit and control from them.) However, judging solely by the way I’ve found the final series volumes severely disappointing, the editors aren’t providing the guidance or story feedback that would help create satisfying resolutions.
This led to a response by Rivkah, creator of STEADY BEAT:
I have many of my own thoughts on this subject, the main course being that the importance of a good editor who is given the time to edit his or her books is part of the most important business of a publisher. I state this because, like Johanna pointed out, my first two books received practically no editorial oversight. Except for grammatical corrections, throwing out three pages of dialog in the final book (I believe, accidentally), and forgetting to drop in balloons in an entire chapter (which is why I draw in dialog balloons with the art, now), the scripts for “Steady Beat” books 1 and 2 were sent back to me unedited. The art received no feedback whatsoever. The only reason I believe the writing improved from the first volume to the second was because I realized with the second book, I was going to have to edit it myself and therefore spent more time going over the dialog after it was completed (before sending it in for approval), but I still felt a lack of confidence in the quality of either when they were published. Queenie Chan I’m fine, at least I got other things to do (just finished the Dean Koontz book). But I feel bad for the other OEL creators – I can’t think of any other crop of first-time, inexperienced creators who got THIS level of scrutiny by people alot older and experienced. I say just let both creators and editors have a chance to learn and grow.
The comments at Rivkah’s post include several comments by Tpop OEL creators, some who had good experiences, some who had bad.
A cynical observer might think, looking back at the OEL generation, that this was just an attempt on Tokyopop’s part to cheaply produce IP that could be turned into movies or TV shows, or all that other stuff that actually makes money in the comics industry. The irony here is that, of ALL comics companies, Tokyopop has had a slow trickle of TV/movie deals. Reportedly, they have three properties in various stages of development. They have some mobile phone content deals, syndicated comic strips, and had some animation up on MySpace, but that moved to their own site a while ago. Why is this, when every other comic book publisher around seems to be optioning everything left and right? Is it just sheer bad luck or something else?
And speaking of those phone deals, phones are just too darned small for creator credits, according to that wonderful contract:
WHAT WE CAN DO WITH YOUR CREDIT
And, speaking of your credit, customarily we give you credit for your work as the writer and/or artist of the Manga Pilot. However, we may have to shorten or leave out your credit when the space available or the conventions of a format won’t permit it or if it would have to be too small to read (for example, when the Manga Pilot is viewed on mobile phones). You’re OK with this.
You hear that? You’re OK with this.
We’ve often railed against work for hire on this site, especially when its applied to a cartoonists own original creations, as it is in this contract. We say that as someone who has worked on worked-for-hire projects and hired people for work-for-hire. WFH has its place and its purpose. And we try to give people the benefit of the doubt most of the time.
But the way this Tokyopop contract is written is so transparent in its attempt to cozy up to the young and inexperienced, so brazen in its contempt for established standards, so smarmily confiding and chummy, “dude” even as it disgustingly strips you of the right to your creations…it is truly a vile, and alarming document. If Tokyopop were just offering young creators the chance to sell their original creations for $20 a page, it would be bad but there would be those who would want to do it just for the chance to get published.
However, the way the document is written is so much worse than that. The most shocking part is that the people who put it together come off as so clueless as to normal, above board business practices, that it should put ANYONE off from working with Toykopop. Someone there needs to apologize and distance themselves from it…FAST.
Or, as Walt Disney put it:
Pinocchio: Oh Jimminy, I’m gonna be an actor.
Jiminy Cricket: All right son, take it easy now. Remember, what I said about temptation? Aha. Well, that’s him.
Pinocchio: Oh no Jimminy, that’s Mr. Honest John!
Mr. Honest John, indeed.
Or as Bryan Lee O’Malley put it:
Listen to me: there are so many ways of getting your comics read by people. You can print them up on a photocopier, sell them at your local comic shop / record shop / independent bookstore. You can put them on the Internet – I believe you’re all familiar with this invention. It costs very little and takes away none of your rights. Many of my good friends make their living entirely from having comics on the web. You don’t need this.