Yesterday, November 18th, was both the author’s birthday (74 yesterday), and Mickey Mouse’s Birthday and
the date for an unprecedented News Conference, hosted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).
The presser was hosted by SFWA President Mary Robinette Kowal (Lady Astronaut series), Alan Dean Foster (novelizations of Star Wars, Aliens, and numerous indie novels and shorts), Vaughne Hansen, the author’s agent and moderated by Kitty Kurth.
Apparently, Mr. Foster has gone unpaid for royalty earnings from several books which were novelizations of movies that Disney has acquired, specifically the first Star Wars novel, the first expanded universe novel Splinter of the Minds Eye, Alien, Aliens and Alien III.
Neither the author, the author’s agent nor representatives of SFWA, have been able to get past Disney’s legal department to speak to someone in Disney’s publishing arm, the belief being that someone familiar with publishing will better understand the situation, because Disney legal representatives have stated that (paraphrasing) “while they have acquired the rights to publish those books, they have not acquired the obligations to pay royalties”.
I’ll wait while you try to wrap your head around that dislogic.
I’ve signed a lot of contracts, written many under attorney supervision, read many, many others. Almost every contract has what is generally referred to as “boilerplate” – stuff included in every contract for things long settled by law and customarily included. Things like “force majeure” (the contract may not stand if a higher power exerts its authority) or “legal interpretation” (this contract will be interpreted according to the laws of the state of Wisconsin), Notices (formal means by which the parties are to be contacted) and “Assignments”, the part that states that the contract will be ENFORCEABLE upon those who may come into possession of it in future (the infamous “heirs, assigns and successors”).
Every Single One.
Now there’s only one circumstance I’m aware of in which the situation with Foster and Disney might come to be, and that would be if Disney’s purchase of those other entertainment companies (the ones that contracted with Foster for the books) specifically did not include debt obligations. Such things are not uncommon when one company acquires another, but the difference between those kinds of contracts and this situation is that the liabilities of the company being sold, or a substantial percentage of them, are usually folded in to the purchase price. It’s largely done so that the purchasing company doesn’t get wrapped up in disputes over those old obligations.
But I’ve never seen such things extended to property that will have on-going expenses related to its production (eg royalties, licensing fees, etc).
Logically, I can’t see how that would even work. Publisher A retains the obligation to pay royalties, while Publisher B is doing the actual production and sales. How does Publisher A know what royalties to pay? They get a statement every month from Publisher B? One they can rely on? A competitor telling them how much money they have to spend? There is simply no way that kind of deal would get written into a contract by any attorney working for a media company.
Something else is going on here.
And its been going on for a while. At least since 2015 when NBC/UT attempted to explain to me that while I had a Trademark in the name Amazing Stories, I had no right to expect that they’d license the name, because “they had already used it in the past” (also licensed) and, more recently, when the Writer’s Guild of America went to war with agencies over the “packaging” concept, where fees are paid to agencies who “packaged” projects (which include script writers work), which does not translate into additional pay for the authors. (See this article for a detailed explanation.)
All of these situations strongly suggest that “Hollywood” is pushing hard to change the contractual relationship of “rights” and payments.
Given the down-trodden history of writing in Hollywood (don’t let those damned crazy authors know how important they are, they just might start demanding to be paid what they are really worth!) – low on the totem pole of compensation and rarely, if ever, given any kind of creative input beyond the actual authorship – this should not be surprising.
But it does look like things may be coming to a head. WGA is fighting on one front, SFWA on another, maybe others will join the fray.
It’s bad enough when Hollywood uses their muscle to force people into unfavorable contracts, but it’s far worse when they claim to have no obligation to pay anything.
And you can read more with Cora Buhlert’s coverage on File 770