Legal Law

Disney (Disney!) Is accused of looking for a lawyer who doesn’t pay royalties to Alan Dean Foster

(Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Disney, of course, has a reputation for being a copyright maximalist. It has been accused of being the leading company in advocating for more draconian copyright laws. And then of course there’s the infamous Mickey Mouse curve, first named by Tom Bell a decade ago, which highlights how the expansion of copyright terms always seemed to be done the way Mickey Mouse was supposed to go into the public domain (but hopefully soon) end):

Correct or not, Disney is synonymous with maximizing copyright, which the company and its lobbyists always back up with stupid claims like they do “for the artist.”

Apart from the fact that Disney doesn’t seem to pay artists. While the details are a bit fuzzy, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and famous author Alan Dean Foster announced yesterday that Disney is no longer paying him royalties on the various Star Wars books he’s written (including the novellation of the books) first film 1976), along with his novels about the Aliens films. He claims he always received royalties, but these suddenly disappeared.

Foster wrote a letter (amusingly addressed to “Mickey”) setting out his side of the argument, more or less saying that Disney, when it devoured various other companies and rights, simply stopped paying royalties:

When you bought Lucasfilm, you acquired the rights to some of the books I wrote. STAR WARS, the adaptation of the very first movie. SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE, the first successor. You owe me royalties on these books. You stopped paying them.

When you bought 20th Century Fox, you eventually got the rights to other books that I wrote. The novels of ALIEN, ALIENS, and ALIEN 3. You have never paid royalties or even drawn up license statements for them.

All of these books are still very much printed. You are still making money. To you. When one company buys another, it acquires both its liabilities and its assets. You will certainly benefit from the advantages of wealth. I would love to share my tiny one (although it’s not small for me).

They want me to sign an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) before I even speak. I’ve signed many NDAs in my 50 year career. No one has ever asked me to sign one before the negotiations. For the obvious reason that once it is signed, you cannot talk about the matter again. Each of my representatives on this matter who have many, many decades of experience on such matters reflects my confusion.

They continue to ignore requests from my agents. They continue to ignore requests from SFWA, America’s science fiction and fantasy writers. They continue to ignore my legal representatives. I know gigantic companies do this a lot. Ignore queries and inquiries and hope the petitioner just disappears. 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 a single writer. How many other writers and artists out there similarly ignore you?

In a video press conference, Foster and SFWA stated (while admitting there were no lawyers on the call) that Disney claims it acquired “the rights but not the obligations” to these works. That’s funny. And I wish there was a lawyer on duty. Because that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

As SFWA notes, if it were possible to acquire rights without the obligations, any company could simply make a bogus sale of the rights without the obligations and stop paying royalties.

Of course, the details are important here, and we only have one side (and not their lawyers). There may be something very strange in these contracts (and this is basically a contract dispute, not a copyright dispute). But with one fundamental issue in particular, the situation looks disgusting for Disney. If you owe royalties, you pay the royalties. Given how aggressive Disney is with its own copyrights, you’d think its lawyers would understand.

Disney (Disney!) Is accused of trying to find a lawyer who does not pay royalties to Alan Dean Foster

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