#DisneyMustPay

From Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America:

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.

Dear Mickey,

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

Prescott, AZ

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.

Link to the rest at SFWA and thanks to Krista for the tip.

PG is not familiar with the contract in question here. He had seen some articles in general-interest publications about this subject, but none in pubs for lawyers.

If someone finds a copy of the publishing contract online from a credible source, PG would appreciate seeing it. You can use the Contact link at the top of TPV to send PG an email. He’ll respond with an email address to which you may send him a copy.

PG was about to start opining, but he’ll wait until he sees a copy of the publishing contract in question.

4 thoughts on “#DisneyMustPay”

  1. I have not seen Mr Foster’s contract. I have, however, seen representative (approximately contemporaneous) contracts in the same subniche from the same imprint of the same publisher.

    If, and only if, there had been a sale or forced transfer of assets in bankruptcy that specifically sold (or transferred) those assets “free and clear,” and these contracts were specifically and incorrectly characterized as simple assets and not as executory agreements, and such sale or transfer had been conducted with appropriate notice, Disney might have an argument. I cannot conceive of any other enforceable circumstance that did not require a formal amendment of the original contract to which Foster had formally agreed₀ because it would constitute conspiracy to commit fraud by the “buying” publisher and the “selling” publisher, <sarcasm> and that’s just not possible in the entertainment industry, because all of the big transferees are so honorable. RICO just isn’t possible! </sarcasm>

    This is commentary and not a legal opinion. If you have these circumstances, or are “asking for a friend” about such circumstances, consult your own lawyer and don’t rely on this commentary for any advice other than “consult your own lawyer.”

    • Always nice to have someone provide a more articulate response than I might have created, C.

      To all those with the good fortune to not have been induced to enter law school – A bankruptcy court can do all sorts of things with contractual rights and many other things that mere mortals cannot.

      Absent that sort of legal authority or the world’s strangest publishing contract, it is highly unlikely that anyone can purchase rights granted under a contract without also assuming the obligations associated with the grant of those rights as set forth in that contract.

      A contract is a package deal, not a buffet line where you can choose to consume what you like and choose not to have anything to do with the nasty pickles and garlic lemons.

      • I should also note that there is no apparent public record of a relevant bankruptcy proceeding that would have led to the circumstances described; it was a hypothetical to demonstrate that there exists a possible set of facts that might allow purchase of assets without purchase of corresponding obligations. (Well, except for CERCLA; although, now that I think about it, there’s quite a bit of intellectual toxic waste in the Prequel Trilogy, so I can’t completely rule that out… <vbeg>)

        And what is wrong with pickled garlic lemons, served on the side with shwarma and tabouleh from a stand in [name of city deleted] while not officially there so everything is on a cash basis (coins and well-worn bills, no consecutive serial numbers)? Sadly, the lemons were the freshest-tasting part of the hastily eaten meal… and since they were pickled that should warn you off the rest…

    • Additionally, unless my recollection is amiss, neither of those acquisitions had anything to do with bankruptcy of the original contracting companies.

Comments are closed.