The Tapas Creator Incubator Program – A Red Flag Contract

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Almost exactly a year ago, Tapas Media – host of Tapastic, a platform for up and coming webcomics – attempted to add the ‘right of first refusal’ clause to their terms of service. Now a year later, there’s more controversy about a new project of theirs; the Tapas Creator Incubator Program.

More correctly, The Tapas Creator Incubator Program started its first round last year, opening for submissions in August 2017. This is just the second round, but after last year’s issues, it’s worth taking a closer look at the Incubator Program, and what it means for young creators.

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What Is The Tapas Creator Incubator Program?

Essentially, the Creator Incubator Program is a chance to make stories for Tapas while getting paid by them.

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From the official FAQ – “Being selected for this program means entering a co-production agreement with us and working closely with our editorial team to create new and exciting original stories. During the program, creators will be compensated for their work. Not only are we providing creators with full editorial resources, but we will also work closely with you to develop your project for opportunities like print publishing or TV/online series deals if you so desire.”

Translated, this means that comic creators would get their ideas funded, edited and pointed in the right direction. They would also be given a path towards adapting ideas that might otherwise stay webcomics for TV, print collections, and other forms of media.

In many ways, this sounds like a dream come true. Who doesn’t want the types of resources a company like Tapas can offer?

Why is the Incubator Program Bad News?

However, Melanie Gillman on Twitter is raising the alarm.

The issue they’re pointing out is that 50/50 or joint ownership, in practice, usually favors the corporation with the money to enforce their claim – not the small-time, often penniless creators attracted to these types of programs.

Gillman’s assertion is backed up by this article that discusses the rise and fall of TokyoPop. Once a major name in manga, Tokyopop lured young artists into 50/50 shared rights agreements. Rikki Simons, co-creator of TokyoPop series ShutterBox, said:

“A co-ownership of copyright between a creator and publisher is a terrible, dishonest trick…To throw away your moral rights and share a copyright with a publisher who has more money and power than you means that, realistically, they own the whole thing… and when the publisher finally goes out of business, and it will eventually go out of business because everything, everything, everything dies eventually, your work will die with them.” -Rikki Simons

With that historical legacy, it certainly feels like Tapas is pulling a fast one on creators who won’t know any better.

Simons also mentions that he and artist Tavisha Wolfgarth-Simons received harassment for speaking out against the practice. This puts the next part of the story into a decidedly worse light…

The Creator Incubator Program: The Flip Side

Several people are unimpressed with Gillman’s take, including creator Ratique, who wrote a reply on their Patreon critiquing and dispelling each of what they regard as ‘misinformation’.

Ratique’s input is definitely an important perspective to keep when critiquing Tapas’s program. However, it’s equally important to take note of what doesn’t get said.

Gillman’s original thread takes the FAQ apart bit by bit, and apart from the 50/50 IP sharing, also critiques the amount of work required:

the shortened deadline for negotiations:

and the overall tone of the FAQ :

Ratique’s reply, on the other hand, focuses almost exclusively on the 50/50 intellectual property issue. Much of the pushback to the criticism of Tapas boils down to ‘just negotiate better.’

Why’s It Bad To ‘Just Negotiate Better’?

There’s nothing wrong, inherently, with expecting artists to negotiate for their own rights. But when programs aimed at inexperienced artists ask for things that they should not be asking for, they’re preying on a straightforward fact.

Negotiation is not an inherent skill. High schools barely teach students how to balance checkbooks, let alone how to ask for a higher salary. If you’re a lawyer or a banker or a computer scientist, you’ll pick up the skills along the way.

However, artists always have to deal with assertions that their art is too expensive. That they’re overcharging. That they should work for ‘exposure.’ Webcomics portals like Tapas understand this better than most people, or they should. It’s ridiculous to expect inexperienced artists to ‘already know’ that they should be negotiating out of bad terms.

So as much as creators like Ratique and others want to defend a company that treats them well, unfortunately not every artist gets equal treatment. The other important detail is that no other artists under contract with Tapas in the Incubator Program have spoken up concerning unfair treatment… but a year into the program, it’s hard to say. It’s hard to imagine that any artist will risk their employment over what everybody else says are “minor gripes.” But in the eventuality of Tapas going under – then the bubble will burst.

If you’re willing to take the risk on programs like Tapas, then all the more power to you. But I don’t blame the creators who aren’t.

What are your thoughts on Tapas Media?

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