If you’ve been spending time on social media, you may have seen the hashtags #DisneyMustPay or #PayUpMickey. Why are people angry at Mickey Mouse and Uncle Walt? Most of us here at SCIFI.radio are hardcore Disney fans and have been for years. However, SFWA President Mary Robinette Kowal has pointed out that #DisneyMustPay Alan Dean Foster, according to their contractual agreement – but hasn’t fixed the problem. Foster was originally contracted to Lucasfilm to write books in the Star Wars universe, and when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, they also bought his contracts. For whatever reason, they have sent no royalty payments on his books in the eight years since that sale took place. Those royalty payments are starting to pile up, and Foster is asking where his money is.
Lucasfilm isn’t the only vector here, either. Disney also bought most of 20th Century Fox, and Foster has also been being stiffed for books written for them based on a variety of their movie franchises.
Foster is a well-known writer, who has written and edited dozens of science fiction and fantasy novels and stories. He is perhaps best-known for his novelizations of movies and TV shows. In addition to ghostwriting the novelization of the original Star Wars movie (now SW IV: A New Hope), published under George Lucas’ name, Foster wrote the first Star Wars novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, published in 1978 by Del Rey. He also wrote novelizations of the popular Alien movies,Transformers, Krull, The Last Starfighter, and Disney’s own The Black Hole. Disney, as we know, has been expanding greatly in recent years, acquiring Marvel, Lucasfilm, Henson’s Muppets, and 20th Century Fox.
Foster has written more than one letter of complaint to Disney, stating:
“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.“
Both Mr. & Mrs. Foster have medical issues, and would find the money very useful. However, even if the Fosters were young and healthy, and swimming in a pool filled with gold coins and hundred-dollar bills like Scrooge McDuck, the principle still applies. In the immortal words of the late, great Harlan Ellison, “Pay the writer.”
Foster told Disney, “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.’ “
SFWA President Mary Robinette Kowal said: “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.
Ms. Kowal also expressed concern Disney may be using similar tactics with other writers.
Some fans have proposed boycotting Disney+ until the Foster matter is settled. Disney+ is the streaming service that broadcasts the very popular Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian.
No one wants to believe that the people maintaining our beloved Unca Walt’s legacy would deliberately cheat a writer, but Disney is very big. In a big corporation, things fall between the cracks. Different departments may not have clear lines of communication.
Do you have an opinion on the Disney/Foster matter? Do you think the House of Mouse is being fair to Mr. Foster, or is the whole thing being blown out of proportion? Are you planning to boycott Disney+?
If you are buying books for holiday gifts, you might consider Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger books or his Icerigger trilogy. He could use the royalties for his lawyer’s fees. If you prefer SF to fantasy, there are over twenty books in the Humanx Commonwealth series.