Alan Dean Foster, a science-fiction author of note, has written the likes of the novelisation of the Star Wars movie as well as a sequel, Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye before Empire Strikes Back was even on the blocks. He also wrote the novelisations of the Alien, Aliens and Alien 3 movies. The only thing is – that the royalties on all these books, which still continue to sell, have stopped. And he is directly blaming Disney.
He recently held a press conference with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, noting that if this is a problem for him, it could be a problem for every writer in a similar position. As he alleges that Disney have bought the publishers of their work, decided they own the publishing rights but not the obligations to pay the creators as originally contractually agreed.
Last year, a member came to SFWA’s Grievance Committee with a problem, which on the surface sounds simple and resolvable. He had written novels and was not being paid the royalties that were specified in his contract. The Grievance Committee is designed to resolve contract disputes like this. As part of our negotiating toolbox, we guarantee anonymity for both the writer and the publisher if the grievance is resolved. When it is working, as president, I never hear from them. When talks break down, the president of SFWA is asked to step in. We do this for any member. In this case, the member is Alan Dean Foster. The publisher is Disney. Here are his words.
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
Mary Robinette Kowal adds:
In my decade with the organization, the fact that we are forced to present this publicly is unprecedented. 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. 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?
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.
- Publication ceases and pay all back royalties to Alan Dean Foster.
This starts with a conversation. 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 choice, Disney must pay Alan Dean Foster.
If you’re a fan of Alan Dean Foster or believe that a writer’s work has value, please let Disney know.
If you are a writer experiencing similar problems with Disney or another company, please report your circumstances to us here.
Response has been swift and strong.
Neil Gaiman: Incredibly troubling. A) What @Disney is doing to Alan Dean Foster is simply wrong, and B) every writer or artist who receives royalties from works they’ve written could find themselves unpaid forever if this behaviour is unchallenged.
Cory Doctorow: As SFWA president @MaryRobinette says, this theory could absolutely upend the nature of copyright itself. Any publisher that wanted to go on making money from an author without paying them could simply sell the rights to a sister company, which then denies any obligations.
Anthony Ryan: Dear @Disney- please pay Alan Dean Foster the royalties you owe him. Everyone else – please RT if you agree.
Joseph Mallozzi: Hang on. Is this for real? Disney acquires the rights to Alan Dean Foster’s books but refuses to pay him his royalties? It’s like someone buying the company you work for and then refusing to pay you your salary.
Much more to come…