Alan Dean Foster, the legendary science fiction writer behind the novelizations of the original Star Wars, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, and the godfather of the original Star Wars Expanded Universe with his authoring of the first sequel in the franchise, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, says he hasn’t been paid royalties owed to him by Disney since the megacorporation’s acquisition of those series’ rights.
In an open letter posted by (and added to by) the Science Fiction Writers of America, the writer, who is living with an advanced form of cancer, says that Disney has not paid royalties for the Star Wars books, which are still in print, and that they haven’t even issued a royalty statement for the Alien novels. He also said that Disney refuses to negotiate with him unless he signs a non-disclosure agreement prior to negotiations. These practices are unheard of in the industry, and have resulted in an equally unprecedented response from SFWA: a public pressure campaign from the organization’s grievance committee.
In 2012, Disney purchased Lucasfilm from founder George Lucas for more than $4 billion, giving them the rights to the entire Star Wars library. It did the same with 20th Century Fox in 2019, spending more than $71 billion to acquire, among MANY, MANY other things, the film rights to the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and all of the rights to the Alien and Predator franchises. This gave them the right to continue publishing popular old material, like Splinter of the Mind’s Eye or classic Alien comics, as well as creating new media like The Mandalorian.
SFWA President and Hugo Award-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal pointed out in the organization’s response that Disney is forwarding a theory of copyright law that is radical and dangerous for content creators in all mediums. Disney’s claim here is effectively that when they bought Lucasfilm and Fox, they purchased all the rights to their associated intellectual property, but none of the obligations. So they’re allowed to keep publishing whatever they want, but, Disney is arguing, they already paid what they need to when they paid Lucasfilm or Fox shareholders.
This is a ludicrous assertion. Kowal points out that under that theory of copyright, a publisher could sign a contract with an author and meet the terms of that contract, but if the author’s book became a runaway smash success, the publisher could just incorporate a subsidiary, sell the rights to that book to the subsidiary, and stop paying the author for her work. That is an expensive, convoluted, obnoxious form of theft.
Foster’s sole demand so far is fair negotiation. The SFWA demands include a meeting between Foster, Disney and the organization’s grievance committee, as well as back royalties for Foster and the cessation of publication of the disputed material until an agreement is reached. They’ve also set up a reporting site for similar copyright disputes here, and started a hashtag campaign to pressure Disney.
Supporters are encouraged to use #DisneyMustPay on social media to encourage the entertainment giant to deal fairly with the sci fi legend.