In November of 2020, a royalty dispute between Alan Dean Foster and Disney was publicized. Foster was originally contracted to write the Alien novelizations through Warner Books which were eventually licensed to Titan Books, and the Star Wars novelizations by Lucasfilms. Both Warner Books and Lucasfilms regularly paid his royalties. When Disney acquired the rights to the books, they no longer paid royalties for his work.
It has further been revealed that contract issues with Disney-owned/controlled companies continue to affect multiple authors across different writer organizations. To advocate for these writers, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) formed the #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force with the Authors Guild, Horror Writers Association, National Writers Union, Novelists, Inc., Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime. The group will help identify and guide authors who might be owed money. The task force includes members such as Neil Gaiman, Tess Gerritsen, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Chuck Wendig. The committee has identified the key areas to be addressed.
Disney needs to:
- Honor contracts now held by Disney and its subsidiaries.
- Provide royalty payments and statements to all affected authors.
- Update their licensing page with an FAQ for writers about how to handle missing royalties
- Create a clear, easy-to-find contact person or point for affected authors.
- Cooperate with author organizations that are providing support to authors and agents.
When the task force presented Disney with these steps and offered Disney to include a statement, the House of Mouse declined.
Authors may be missing royalty statements or checks across a wide range of properties in prose, comics, or graphic novels. Below is a list of properties that have verified reports of missing statements and royalties. The list is incomplete and there are likely more:
- LucasFilm (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc.)
- Boom! Comics (Licensed comics including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc.)
- Dark Horse Comics (Licensed comics including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc.)
- 20th Century Fox (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alien, etc.)
- MGM (Stargate)
- Marvel WorldWide (SpiderMan, Predator)
- Disney Worldwide Publishing (Buffy, Angel)
The task force is opening up help to anyone that is affected. Authors don’t need membership or an agent. For those missing royalty statements, they can fill out this form hosted by SFWA. Anonymity is guaranteed.
Disney’s stance is they have purchased the rights to these properties and books but not to the obligations that come with it. If this is left to stand, it opens up a world of abuse where company A would be able to sell off properties to company B to get out of obligations.
The SFWA announced that Mr. Foster’s royalties issue has been resolved. But, about a dozen additional authors contacted SFWA with a request for assistance, including the authors of Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones, and multiple other properties. SFWA has provided Disney with the names of authors who are similarly missing royalty statements and payments going back years.
Disney is being reactive concerning this. They have to be told there are missing royalties and to be contacted with a formal claim.
This isn’t an issue just with Disney. Fox had licensed the comics rights to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Dark Horse. After Disney purchased Fox, they withdrew those rights from Dark Horse and granted them to BOOM! Comics. When one Buffy author contacted Boom! about missing royalties, they were told that “royalties don’t transfer.” Disney gained a percent of BOOM! when they purchased 20th Century Fox.
Since Disney has declined to cooperate with the task force in identifying affected authors, the #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force needs help to contact everyone who might be affected. The joint task members need writers, readers, and fans to alert authors who may be affected.
Other ways to support this effort have been outlined by the task force:
- Do not boycott, as this will disproportionately affect those authors who are being paid.
- Use #DisneyMustPay on social media. Help is needed to bring the task force’s five action items to the attention of Disney’s decision-makers.
- Visit WritersMustBePaid.org, a new website set up by the new task force, and share it.
- Do purchase the works of affected authors for which they are receiving royalties.
The #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force’s goal is to make sure writers’ working conditions are fair and safe, but individual negotiations are, rightly, between the authors, their agents, and the rights holder. Hence, the Disney Task Force is looking at structural and systemic concerns.