Now that everyone’s weighed in on the TokyoPop Manga Pilot program, I thought I’d express some feelings that I have about it.
Bottom line: It really ain’t that bad.
If you think about who TokyoPop caters to, who their largest demographic is, it’s teens. It’s kids. So guess who the contract is for?
Obviously any professional is going to balk at the language that TP’s Manga Pilot contract is written in, at signing away moral rights, etc. But this isn’t for professionals, this is geared for someone starting out, who has few or no credentials – or kids, for that matter – but for whom dreams are the stuff of life. Not paying off a mortgage, struggling to find affordable childcare, and cursing the HMO’s.
I haven’t seen any of the other contracts (i.e. Platinum) but I will say that while TP’s contract isn’t all that great, for the audience it’s targeting (15-20 year olds) there are a few redeeming factors.
First of all, there’s an expiration date. No one is signing away their rights in perpetuity. This is a one year contract once everything is greenlighted. And if it’s not, it’s written into the agreement that TP will get back to the creator within 30 days. After which, the creator has the right to sic his/her lawyer on TP. Puts the power back into the creators hands. After one year, the rights revert to the creator – up to him/her to decide if she wants to continue with TP. Puts the power back into the creators hands.
Additionally, the pilot program implies that editorial will work on the proposed project, honing it, shaping it, until it’s suitable for release. This type of massaging is pretty sweet for someone starting out. It’s guidance and even if it’s not the type of guidance or direction that a creator wants to take, it’s an education in the entertainment business that creators can get a lot out of.
I have seen much much worse than this.
Bottom line: Most contracts are shitty.
The true indication of whether to work with a company is not necessarily what’s written into the contract, but what the company and their legal department are willing to change in the contract. Most contracts are pisser to read. But anyone who’s negotiated contracts before should know that contracts are for getting the shitty stuff out of the way – for some companies, they’re for making the most unreasonable requests. But also, for companies, the contract is laying out on the table, what their dream is: make money hand over fist on a property that they have all rights to. Minimal effort netting maximum return. (Think of it as a selfish lover.)
Every creator should know that making their dreams come true is their business and their business alone, and that the companies business is staying in business, preferably with some sort of profit. The relationship will not always be beneficial to both parties, more commonly, it won’t be fair at all. But everyone has to decide what they want to sacrifice for their dream. (Dream, not survival.)
Bottom line: A contract is the beginning of a relationship.
Don’t judge a book by a cover, and don’t judge a company by their contract. Judge them by how they treat you, whether they’re willing to work with you on an agreement that will make both parties happy, how they react when your lawyer tells them that they’re contract is bullshit.
Lastly, before anything is signed, a contract is in negotiation until someone walks away. Creators always have that right. So use it.