Alan Dean Foster, author of several Star Wars novelizations, says Disney hasn’t paid him his royalties. According to Foster, Disney has also asked him to sign a non-disclosure agreement before the company will speak with him.
“You continue to ignore requests from my agents,” Foster wrote in a letter published by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. “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.”
Foster ghost-wrote the novelization of Star Wars: A New Hope, under the byline of George Lucas; it was published in 1976 before the movie’s release. He also published a sequel to Star Wars, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012; according to Foster, Disney stopped paying him royalties. Last year, Disney bought 20th Century Fox, acquiring the rights to some other novelizations by Foster: Alien, Aliens, and Alien 3. Disney hasn’t paid Foster a dime on any of the Alien books, he says.
Disney says that it engaged with Foster and his agent for more than a year over the Alien books — and that this is the first they’ve heard about the Star Wars novelizations as a point of contention. According to Disney, their last correspondence was in March, asking for a meeting, and the company did not hear back. Disney views the NDA as standard practice around negotiations.
According to SFWA president Mary Robinette Kowal, Disney is arguing that when it bought Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox, they bought contract rights — but not the legal obligation to pay Foster for his work. “If we let this stand, it could set precedent to fundamentally alter the way copyright and contracts operate in the United States,” Kowal wrote. “All a publisher would have to do to break a contract would be to sell it to a sibling company.” Disney declined to comment on this characterization of their stance.
Kowal also expressed concern Disney may be using similar tactics with other writers.
But beyond the individual injustice being visited upon Foster, Kowal and SFWA worry that this represents a suite of new, corporate anti-writer tactics: flipping assets without liabilities, refusing to talk about it without an NDA.
— Cory Doctorow #BLM (@doctorow) November 19, 2020
This isn’t Disney’s first brush with radically altering copyright. Disney has consistently lobbied Congress to lengthen copyright periods — partially to protect its mascot, Mickey Mouse. Disney lobbied heavily for the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, which was introduced by Sonny Bono; had that law not passed, Mickey would already be in the public domain.
Read the full text of Foster’s letter here:
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
Update November 19th, 8:30PM ET: Adds Disney’s response.