One of the panels I was most looking forward to at Wizard World Chicago was the Zudacomics panel, where Richard Bruning and Kwanza Johnson were going to show off the reader and answer questions. Sadly, their demo wasn’t working at the time, so it just turned into a lot of questions and answers. Jason Fliegel was there and covered many of the thing I wanted to, but there are a few points to add and emphasize.
Jason points out the issue of the contracts: "First… DC didn’t brief the panelists on the legalities of the deal that is being offered to creators. Or DC hasn’t figured it out themselves yet. Or both. During the panel, Bruning noted that DC would own the trademarks in the characters. I asked whether the trademarks would be registered with the Patent and Trademark Office, and if so, in what categories. Bruning and Johnson looked flabbergasted, then bullshitted me for thirty seconds before moving on to the next question. Clearly they had no idea."
Let me add: DC/Zuda will let the creators keep the copyright to the work, but they will retain the trademark. If you think that’s not a problem, let me refer you to Chris Butcher: "Trademark is interesting, it’s why the KRAZY KAT collections that Fantagraphics are doing are called Krazy & Ignatz and why the GASOLINE ALLEY collections that D+Q are doing are called Walt & Skeezix. The copyright on those early works may have fallen into the public domain, but the titles (marks) used in business (trade) haven’t, and are still owned by the syndicates." Or think Captain Marvel instead of Shazam.
Continuing on, from Jason: "Speaking of legalities, Bruning and Johnson mentioned that they would be putting the contract online for everyone to see. Makes sense, since you ought to know what kind of deal you’re getting before you sign on to the deal. Bruning and Johnson also said they would be putting an English translation of the contract online, since lawyers don’t speak English. This peeved Mike Chary and me; we are both lawyers, and I’m pretty sure we both speak English. In point of fact, a good lawyer won’t put anything in a contract without a reason. I’m assuming DC has good lawyers, so I therefore assume that all of the contractual language has a purpose. Dollars to donuts, the "English translation" they post will be close to what the real contract says but not exactly right in some of the details. I wonder what will happen if someone sues Zuda over one of those differences?"
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of lawyers, two more notes: the contract will be a one-size-fits-all contract, take it or leave it. Bruning also noted that satire & parody strips might have to go past DC’s legal department. Won’t that be fun.
The big stunner is that DC wanted to keep complete control in-house, and not leverage the corporate wisdom of parent company AOL. This makes exactly as much sense as DC saying "We don’t want to leverage the knowledge of Warner Brothers when we make our TV shows and movies, we want to do it all ourselves, so we can learn." For that matter, DC isn’t keeping it all in house, as they’ve subcontracted the building of the reader (and presumably the site) to IBM.
Also in the control category: Zuda will be keeping complete control over negotiations for all tie-in rights– movies, TV, action figures, and so on. Ask the fellows at Milestone how well that worked out for them– or for that matter, ask DC why there were never any toys for Static, and still aren’t.
The most interesting things about the competition is that it’s completely open, so if, say, Mike W. Barr or Tony Isabella wanted to enter the contest, they could. And the winner of the contest, as of now, doesn’t actually have to take the deal for the following 52 weeks. Of course, this is based on a contract that no one’s seen yet, so it may change between now and September.
Finally, Zuda is expecting to launch sometime in October. Here’s hoping.