Science fiction writers and authors, and the Science Fiction Writers of America are backing a growing social media campaign to persuade Disney to pay up on owed royalties on Aliens and Star Wars novels written by Alan Dean Foster.
Alan brought the case to the attention of the SFWA Grievance Committee last year, but after Disney refused to budge, not only not issuing payment but also refusing to issue royalty statements to the highly-regarded author, and demanding, unusually, he sign a Non Disclosure Agreement before negotiating, the matter has now escalated.
AmazonUK’s Author Page for Alan indicates his Alien novelisations remain top sellers, the first published back in 1979 with a re-issue in 2014. Alan adapted the Star Wars novelisation in 1976, followed by the first tie-in novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, in 1978.
When the SFWA’s lawyers contacted Disney on Foster and his lawyer’s behalf, Disney told them it “had acquired the rights, but not the obligations”.
However, according to US contract law, the studio would have acquired both the rights to sell Foster’s books as well as the obligation to pay him the agreed royalties.
The SFWA, led by its President, Mary Robinette Kowal, fear Disney’s response to the matter represents a suite of new, corporate anti-writer tactics: flipping assets without liabilities, and refusing to talk about it without an NDA.
In an effort to ensure the matter does not become garbled in the telling, here’s Foster’s take on his grievance with Disney in full, in his own words, published here by the SFWA.
We have a lot in common, you and I. We share a birthday: November 18. My dad’s nickname was Mickey. There’s more.
When you purchased Lucasfilm you acquired the rights to some books I wrote. STAR WARS, the novelization of the very first film. SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE, the first sequel novel. You owe me royalties on these books. You stopped paying them.
When you purchased 20th Century Fox, you eventually acquired the rights to other books I had written. The novelizations of ALIEN, ALIENS, and ALIEN 3. You’ve never paid royalties on any of these, or even issued royalty statements for them.
All these books are all still very much in print. They still earn money. For you. When one company buys another, they acquire its liabilities as well as its assets. You’re certainly reaping the benefits of the assets. I’d very much like my miniscule (though it’s not small to me) share.
You want me to sign an NDA (Non-disclosure agreement) before even talking. I’ve signed a lot of NDAs in my 50-year career. Never once did anyone ever ask me to sign one prior to negotiations. For the obvious reason that once you sign, you can no longer talk about the matter at hand. Every one of my representatives in this matter, with many, many decades of experience in such business, echo my bewilderment.
You continue to ignore requests from my agents. You continue to ignore queries from SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. You continue to ignore my legal representatives. I know this is what gargantuan corporations often do. Ignore requests and inquiries hoping the petitioner will simply go away. Or possibly die. But I’m still here, and I am still entitled to what you owe me. Including not to be ignored, just because I’m only one lone writer. How many other writers and artists out there are you similarly ignoring?
My wife has serious medical issues and in 2016 I was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer. We could use the money. Not charity: just what I’m owed. I’ve always loved Disney. The films, the parks, growing up with the Disneyland TV show. I don’t think Unca Walt would approve of how you are currently treating me. Maybe someone in the right position just hasn’t received the word, though after all these months of ignored requests and queries, that’s hard to countenance. Or as a guy named Bob Iger said….
“The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”
I’m not feeling it.
Alan Dean Foster
SFWA Takes Polite Action
“In my decade with the organization, the fact that we are forced to present this publicly is unprecedented,” says SFWA President Mary Robinette Kowal.”So too, are the problems. The simple problem is that we have a writer who is not being paid.
“The larger problem has the potential to affect every writer,” she adds. “Disney’s argument is that they have purchased the rights but not the obligations of the contract. In other words, they believe they have the right to publish work, but are not obligated to pay the writer no matter what the contract says. If we let this stand, it could set precedent to fundamentally alter the way copyright and contracts operate in the United States. All a publisher would have to do to break a contract would be to sell it to a sibling company.
“If they are doing this to Alan Dean Foster, one of the great science fiction writers of our time, then what are they doing to the younger writers who do not know that a contract is a contract?”
The SFWA says that to resolve the immediate issue regarding their breach of contract with Alan Dean Foster, Disney has three choices: pay Alan Dean Foster all back royalties as well as any future royalties; Publication ceases until new contract(s) are signed, and pay all back royalties to Alan Dean Foster as well as any future royalties; or publication ceases and pay all back royalties to Alan Dean Foster.
“This starts with a conversation,” urges Disney. “You have our contact information and offer to sit down with a Disney representative, Alan’s agent Vaughne Lee Hansen, and a SFWA representative.”
Regardless of Disney’s choice, Kowal says Disney must pay Alan Dean Foster what he’s owed.
Alan also participated in a press conference earlier this week, which you can watch on the SFWA Facebook Page. During the online event Kowal said she felt “fairly confident” the SFWA could negotiate an agreement, “if we can talk to someone from the publishing arm of Disney they will understand how these things are supposed to work.
“But we can’t get past their legal branch, which is making this completely ridiculous argument,” she said.
“If you’re a fan of Alan Dean Foster or believe that a writer’s work has value, please let Disney know,” Kowal asks.
Unsurprisingly, following the SFWA’s press conference about the situation, the hashtag #DisneyMustPay began trending on Twitter, with major writers voicing their support for Foster.
Here at downthetubes, we add our voice to that appeal.
“Disney attempting not to pay Alan what they contractually obliged to pay him is bullshit,” argues top SF author John Scalzi, “and the company fronting a legal argument that they’ve bought contractual rights but not contractual obligations is bullshit and dangerous. Pay him.”
“If Disney gets away with this, then it will be perfectly possible for your publisher to sell your work to a sister company, then claim all the income for themselves without paying you any royalties,” SF author Joanne Harris cautions other writers, echoing the concerns of the SFWA.
“Foster’s case is a gross injustice,” feels author and journalist Cory Doctorow. “He has cancer and his wife is ill. He wrote these books, Disney bought them. They’re making money from them. They owe him money. Period.”
As yet, Disney does not appear to have responded to press requests for comment on the matter.
• Alan’s latest original novel, Madrenga, was released this week. If you’re a fan of his and want to support him, buy a copy
• You can follow Foster’s case with the #DisneyMustPay hashtag. If you’re a writer facing similar tactics (even if you’re not a SFWA member), they’re seeking your story, via this form
UPDATE, 19th December 2020 The Wall Street Journal (subscription required for full article) reported that since Mr. Foster’s dispute was taken public by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America association, other authors of books tied to projects from Indiana Jones to Buffy the Vampire Slaye have come forward with similar stories of royalty cheques that stopped after Disney acquired the properties. In each case, Disney threatens to alienate an obscure but vital tentacle of the franchises, as these novelisations helped build and maintain fan loyalty. Complicating matters: The exact amount of money at stake is unknown, since sales and royalties for the books involved have fluctuated wildly over time.