Star Wars novelists demand royalties from Disney

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Alan Dean Foster was in his late twenties when George Lucas, standing near a model of the Millennium Falcon in a warehouse in Southern California, met him to discuss writing the new adaptation for his upcoming movie “Star Wars ”.

The original contract provided for an upfront payment of $ 7,500, until Mr. Lucas paid Mr. Foster a 0.5% royalty on sales which Mr. Foster, now 74, said had totaled several times this initial payment. They arrived several times a year as the original 1977 blockbuster set box office records and the novelization he was writing sold over a million copies.

Then, in 2012, Walt Disney Co. purchased Lucasfilm Ltd. – and royalty controls have ceased.
Now Mr. Foster and other authors of Disney-bought franchises are in a heated dispute with Hollywood’s largest empire, which they say refuses to pay royalties on book contracts absorbed into the 4-contract. billion dollars with Lucasfilm and other acquisitions. The amount of money at stake is tiny for a business the size of Disney but significant for writers looking for it. While Disney has tapped Lucasfilm for new films that have collectively grossed nearly $ 6 billion at the global box office, these writers say the company has delayed dealing with their complaints and added them back on checks that rarely total a few. thousands of dollars each.

Since Mr. Foster’s dispute was made public by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, other authors of books related to Indiana Jones’ plans to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” have presented similar stories. royalty checks that ceased after Disney acquired the properties. In each case, Disney threatens to alienate an obscure but vital tentacle of franchising, as these new features have helped build loyalty and maintain fan loyalty. To complicate matters, the exact amount of money at stake is unknown, as the sales and royalties of the affected books have fluctuated wildly over time.

A Disney spokesperson said, “We are carefully reviewing whether any royalty payments may have been missed as a result of the acquisition integration and will take appropriate corrective action if so. ”

Mr. Foster, who is well known to longtime Star Wars fans, says Disney ignores working gamers who help make intergenerational bonds with beloved characters. He and his wife are both in poor health and he said the royalty income could help with medical bills.

“I am not Steve Spielberg. I am not Steve King. I don’t even have a name that starts with Steve, ”he says.

The dispute began in the summer of 2019, when Mr. Foster’s literary agent Vaughne Hansen first asked Disney why he had stopped receiving royalty checks on three novels he had written linked to “Alien,” the extra-space horror series produced by Twentieth Century Fox, the studio that Disney bought under a $ 71.3 billion deal in 2019.

Mr. Foster and his agent then realized that the same had happened with his royalties for two Star Wars books after Disney bought Lucasfilm.

In response to questions about the “Alien” checks, a Disney lawyer told Mr. Foster that the company had acquired the rights to those books, but not the obligations to pay royalties. But in the case of “Alien,” Ms. Hansen said, the rights to Mr. Foster’s novels had been reassigned several times, with no interruption in royalty checks, before Disney bought Fox.

“Disney bought a house with a mortgage. They want to continue living in the house. They don’t want to pay the mortgage, ”Mr. Foster said.

The group of writers says a similar pattern has emerged following other Disney acquisitions. At least a half-dozen writers from a range of Disney-owned properties have since said they are in the same boat, said Mary Robinette Kowal, president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Disney has started looking at the “Alien” case, but there is a line of writers behind Mr. Foster waiting for a turn at the negotiating table. In total, Ms. Hansen estimates that her client earned more than $ 50,000 in royalties from the original Star Wars novelization alone before the Checks ceased in 2012.

If Disney agrees to calculate the missing royalties, it faces a daunting task of tracking sales that span six years and, in Mr. Foster’s case alone, five novels published in dozens of international markets.

Donald Glut, a writer who fictionalized ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ of the 1980s, and James Kahn, who adapted the third film in the original trilogy, ‘Return of the Jedi’, both said they were missing also royalty checks.

If a resolution is not found, the writers’ association could take other action, Ms Kowal said, including putting Disney on a list of publishers she tells members to avoid. The term given to such a designation: “Writer Beware”.

Write to Erich Schwartzel at [email protected]

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