By Cora Buhlert: After some confusion regarding the start time, the joint Zoom press conference of Alan Dean Foster and SFWA about Disney’s failure to pay royalties due to Mr. Foster, started with a slight delay. Present were Alan Dean Foster, his agent Vaughne Hansen and Mary Robinette Kowal, president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The moderator was Kitty Kurth.
The press conference began with statements from Alan Dean Foster and Mary Robinette Kowal. Alan Dean Foster phrased his statement as an open letter to Mickey Mouse, while Mary Robinette Kowal talked about the broader implications of the issue. Both statements may be found on the SFWA website. After the statements were read, moderator Kitty Kurth opened the floor to questions from the audience.
Some time ago, Alan Dean Foster noticed that he no longer received either royalties or royalty statements for the novelization of the first Star Wars movie, the Star Wars tie-in novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye as well as the novelizations of Alien, Aliens and Alien 3.
Alan Dean Foster contacted his agent Vaughne Hansen, who contacted the current publishers of the novels in question. It turned out that the problem was not with the publishers, but with Disney.
When Disney’s legal department kept stonewalling Vaughne Hansen, Alan Dean Foster contacted the SFWA grievance committee, who had no more luck getting a response from Disney. According to Alan Dean Foster, his agent and SFWA have been trying to talk to Disney without success for over a year now. So the matter was escalated to SFWA president Mary Robinette Kowal, who decided to take the unprecedented step to go public with the issue.
In essence, Disney claims that when they purchased Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox, they purchased the rights to the five novels in question, but not the obligation to pay Alan Dean Foster the royalties he is entitled to.
Mary Robinette Kowal stated that according to US contract law, when a company is bought or merged, both rights and obligations are transferred to the legal successor of the original company. Vaughne Hansen confirmed that the original contract for the Alien novelisations also includes a clause stating that rights and obligations are transferred to the legal successor in case of a buyout or merger. No word on the two Star Wars novels, but it would be very unusual, if the contract did not contain a transference of rights and obligations clause.
In my day job as a translator, I see a lot of contracts and can confirm that every contract contains a clause regarding the transferences of rights and obligations in case of a buyout or merger. This is very much a legal and business standard.
Vaughne Hansen stated that the problem is not with the contracts, but with Disney. Mary Robinette Kowal also pointed out that Disney’s behaviour sets a dangerous precedent with potentially huge consequences for all creatives. Mary Robinette Kowal also implored any writers who have experienced similar issues with Disney or any other company to contact SFWA via this form on their website.
Alan Dean Foster’s experience does not seem to be an isolated incident, because during the Q&A part of the press conference Steve Davidson reported experiencing a similar issues regarding the trademark to Amazing Stories, which he holds, and the eponymous Apple TV series. Michael Capobianco also expressed concerns regarding the novelisation of Alien Resurrection, which his late wife A.C. Crispin wrote.
Mary Robinette Kowal once more stressed that SFWA and Alan Dean Foster’s representatives want to talk to Disney to find a solution to the problem and that they only decided to go public, because they could not get a reply from Disney. Mary Robinette Kowal also stated that whether the contracts in question continue or are cancelled, Disney must pay the outstanding royalties to Alan Dean Foster.
Here are the statements by Mary Robinette Kowal and Alan Dean Foster posted at the SFWA Blog:
A message from SFWA’s President, Mary Robinette Kowal:
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.