Disney has been accused of failing to pay acclaimed author Alan Dean Foster royalties for his bestselling film novels such as Star Wars and Alien, in a copyright fight described as unprecedented and grotesque.
Foster was approached by George Lucas to write a novelization of Star Wars: A New Hope, which was released in late 1976, shortly before the film’s release. Foster alleges that when Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, it purchased the rights to the novel as well as the first novel in the Star Wars sequel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, released in 1978. Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox in 2019 meant that he also acquired the rights to Foster’s novels on Alien, Aliens and Alien 3. But the sci-fi author said Disney had not paid him royalties on the books, which are all still printed and make money for the media giant.
“When one company buys another, it acquires its liabilities as well as its assets. You are definitely reaping the benefits of assets. I would love my tiny share (although it’s not small for me), ”Foster said in a public statement released after Disney asked him to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Foster and the supporting Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) claim that Disney has ignored several requests from its agents, legal representatives and the SFWA.
“I know this is what gargantuan companies often do: ignore requests and demands and hope the petitioner will just disappear. Or maybe die. But I’m still here, and I’m still entitled to what you owe me. Including not to be ignored, just because I’m just one writer. How many other writers and artists do you similarly ignore? ” he said.
Foster said his wife had “serious health problems” and was diagnosed with advanced cancer in 2016.
“We could use the money. No charity: just what I owe. I have always loved Disney. Movies, parks, growing up with the Disneyland series. I don’t think Unca Walt would approve of the way you treat me now. Maybe someone in the right position just hasn’t gotten the word out, although after all these months of requests and ignored requests it’s hard to take, ”he wrote.
SFWA president author Mary Robinette Kowal called the situation unprecedented. “The simple problem is, we have a writer who is not paid,” Kowal said. “The larger problem has the potential to affect all writers. Disney’s argument is that they bought the rights but not the obligations of the contract. In other words, they believe they have the right to publish works, but are not obligated to pay the writer anyway. If we leave that position, it could set a precedent to fundamentally change how copyright and contracts work in the United States. All a publisher would have to do to break a contract would be to sell it to a sister company. ”
SFWA is asking Disney to reimburse Foster royalties as well as future royalties, cease publishing until new contracts are signed and pay all royalties owed to Foster, or cease publishing forever and reimburse all royalties to the writer.
“We’re pretty confident that if we can talk to someone from Disney’s publishing division, they’ll understand how these things are supposed to work… but we can’t get past their legal branch, which makes that argument completely ridiculous.” Kowal said at a broadcast press conference Wednesday.
Following the SFWA press conference on the situation, the #DisneyMustPay hashtag started trending on Twitter, with leading writers expressing support for Foster. John Scalzi called on Disney to “pay”, Cory Doctorow called Foster’s case “a grave injustice”, and NK Jemisin called it “grotesque”.
The Guardian has reached out to Disney in the UK and US for comment.