Wednesday, May 28, 2008

TOKYOPOP Pilot Program Rips Off, Talks Down To Artists

Subscribers to the TOKYOPOP e-newsletter recently saw the following announcement:

Manga Pilots: You Read and Review -- You Help Decide What We Publish!
TOKYOPOP is launching an exciting new stage in our manga development program -- and we need your help.

We want you to read, review, and tell us which TOKYOPOP Manga Pilots should be made into a full-length manga.

Click here to help TOKYOPOP develop the next generation of manga superstars!

In the Pilot Program, you come up with a great idea, you make a 24-36 page comic, they put it online with a bunch of other submissions, and "the people" decide who wins.Sounds like a new and exciting way for new talent to get exposure, right? However, a read through of the terms, conditions and artist's agreement reveals language that is insulting couching terms that are draconian (pdf).

Brian Lee O'Malley reviews the contract point by point, here are a few choice excerpts:

...they're writing this contract in a "hey dude" style to seem less evil and confusing, but this is just another tactic for evil and confusion.


Pilot Fee $____, payable in full when we receive and accept the Manga Pilot
That's a conspicuous blank. I'm not aware of just what they're offering. Are they asking you to put up your own number? What are they, Radiohead? Also, please note that whatever amount they're giving you, they aren't giving it to you until they receive and accept your comic - which is 24-36 pages, by the way, "inked, toned, ballooned, and lettered", not to mention that you'll be doing all the digital prepress. (If you're "only writing", you get off easy - just a manuscript.)

You promise to protect us from claims anyone makes that you violated their rights in connection with your Project or Manga Pilot. This means you’ll pay for all the lawyers to fight it out and all the other costs necessary to fend off those claims, in or out of court.
And, if things do get ugly and end up going to court, this means you’ll also pay for all the expert witnesses and court costs and, if the other guy or gal wins, you’ll pay whatever the court awards them, too.
This almost speaks for itself, but maybe a little example would make it clearer. Say, maybe, your comic becomes a huge success. You get movies and toys based on your characters. You might even start making some money. THEN someone comes forward and sues your ass for stealing your idea from him back in the sixth grade. You know, one of those multi-million dollar lawsuits. Let me tell you, judging from these contracts, Tokyopop is going to be holding all the million-dollar-bills at that point, not you. They'll have the huge percentage you negotiated away, and you'll be standing there with negative a million dollars.

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.
This is even worse! "We don't have to put your name on your comic if we don't feel like it." Okay? That's what it says. I've seen this. Tokyopop ads that don't specify creators. You know, all their comics come from the same hive mind. All their creators are replaceable cogs in a giant machine.

Once the Exclusive Period ends and even if you and we haven’t entered into an Original Property Agreement, we’ll still have the worldwide right, continuing forever, to publish the Manga Pilot on a non-exclusive basis.
If you realize that this means Tokyopop can continue making money from different versions of your 24-36 page comic (books, magazines, ipods, online advertising, whatever), while giving you 0% of that money, congratulations. You're correct.

Brian concludes:
"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."

Who stands to be lured in and hurt the most? Newcomers to manga publishing, or those so star-struck at the idea of working for TOKYPOP that they might not realize what they're signing away, says freelance writer and blogger Nadia:

For every aspiring novelist in the world, there are ten clip joints waiting to pounce, wrap and eat the writer's hopes. The linked establishment is a particularly horrible offender; not only does it lure in shy writers, it works to convince said writers that they'll never have a hope of publishing anywhere else. Then they do unspeakable things to the writer's rights and royalties with the help of a contract full of jargon and lies. I've known promising novelists who swore to never write again after being ground up by the machine.

These kinds of incidents are what let companies like Tokyopop get away with saying, "Hey guy, we're your friend! Dig this jargon-free contract!"

So what's the solution? Research and more research before even considering publication. Aspiring Tokyopop manga-ka have a huge head start thanks to this incident...

If you're excited about the prospect of breaking into the industry, that's understandable, but dump some cold water down your pants and think before you do anything. Is it worth writing, drawing, inking and toning 24-32 pages of manga for a paltry seven hundred? Is it worth getting nothing else from the revenue generated by your idea? Is it worth getting stuck with lawsuit bills from loonies who swear you stole their idea, while Tokyopop vanishes like Flagg, leaving only its clothes and a puff of smoke?

Unfortunately, someone will be taken in by this regardless, but the creative process is a leather-clad bitch with metal-studded rawhide lessons. Sometimes we learn best by, er, taking it. But if you can avoid heartache by talking to veterans and reading up on resources, do it. It's a long process that might snuff out your hopes, but that's only temporary because you can move on. Not only will you be doing yourself a favour, you'll be doing the community good by lessening the pool of desperate writers/artists that these companies feed on.

We'll never be filthy rich, dear freelancers, but there are still many publishers who want quality work and will pay a fair price for it. Don't be unrealistic, but don't settle for a paper full of weasel words.


Another clause that jumped out at me was the "DEFENDING YOUR WORK" section that read:

You promise to protect us from claims anyone makes that you violated their rights in connection with your Project or Manga Pilot. This means you’ll pay for all the lawyers to fight it out and all the other costs necessary to fend off those claims, in or out of court.

...because it's also a load of bunk. I am not a lawyer, but I can't see it standing in court. I mean, nobody is going to sue a Tokyopop artist-- they are going to go where the money is if they actually hope to recoup anything. Tokyopop is the company with assets (and asses) to be lost if the case isn't defended vigorously. I'd wager that all someone would need to do is to suggest in a deposition or in court that their editor was aware the rights weren't clear, and it won't matter what the creator signed. You don't get immunity from prosecution for illegal acts just by having someone sign a piece of paper!

1 comment:

Leeann H said...

I got/had to get suckered into this shit back then and worked at an average of $6 per page (that $750 was split between me and the writer - who was terrible at keeping notes and promises, but that's another story).

It really hurts to keep seeing this plastered all over the internet and not get further support from Tokyopop. Late response, but yeah.

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