The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, together with multiple writers organizations and several prominent authors, has formed a coalition to further advance their goal of persuading The Walt Disney Co. to pay outstanding royalties to several writers.
Contract issues with Disney-owned companies came to light last November, when author Alan Dean Foster and SFWA went public with the complaint that Disney had not paid royalties on several projects that were completed before Disney’s purchases of both Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox.
On April 1st, Foster wrote on his blog, “The irritating imbroglio with Disney, which you may have read about, is moving rapidly toward a mutually agreeable conclusion. A formal statement will be forthcoming.” Today he reiterated, “I still cannot make a formal pronouncement in re the royalties situation with Disney except to say, again, that a formal statement will still be forthcoming. I can add that progress continues to be made toward a mutually satisfactory resolution.”
Now we have word that SFWA has formed the #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force together with the Author’s Guild, Horror Writers Association, National Writers Union, Novelists, Inc., Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime in an effort to identify authors who may be owed money and to guide them in the process to resolve their situations. The task force includes members such as SFWA president Mary Robinette Kowal, Neil Gaiman, Tess Gerritsen, and Chuck Wendig, among others.
The group will advocate for Disney 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.
This list was presented to Disney with an offer for them to include a statement in the e-mail sent to Task Force members prior to the news going out to the public. Disney declined.
Following Foster’s statement in November, long-time Lucasfilm archivist J.W. Rinzler posted on Twitter that he was facing a similar circumstance:
— J. W. Rinzler (@jwrinzler) November 23, 2020
Shortly thereafter, there were indications that several authors were dealing with the same situation. Foster had taken his issue to the SFWA Grievance Committee, which usually works to resolve disputes in private. But as Kowal told us on Good Morning Multiverse in November, “Going public is the measure of last resort. Going to court is the measure of last resort.”
Foster’s initial concerns were specifically tied to his novelizations of the first three Alien films. Subsequent to those initial discussions with Disney, Foster and his representatives also realized that he had not received royalties for his novelization of Star Wars and the subsequent sequel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. He says that Del Rey Books and Warner Books had been regularly paying royalties up until the time when Lucasfilm and 20th Century were acquired by Disney, “at which point royalties for all five books stopped.” Foster’s agent, upon realizing the royalties had stopped, contacted SFWA.
When contacted by SFWA’s Grievance Committee, Disney’s initial position was that while they had purchased Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox and their respective intellectual properties, they had not acquired the contractual obligations of the previous owners. SFWA then took the dispute public.
In November, we spoke with a Disney representative, who told us they were eager to resolve the situation with Foster and had been waiting for his representatives to contact them, thus putting the shoe back on the foot of the aggrieved author.
Since then, SFWA reports without getting into detail, that the dispute with Foster has been resolved. “Yet, 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. The organization states that Disney is being reactive rather than proactively working with them to address the issue.
According to the information sent to SFWA members in an e-mail today, authors may be missing royalty statements or payments across a wide range of novels, comic books, and graphic novels. An incomplete list for which SFWA has verified reports of missing statements and royalties include:
- 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 (Spider-Man, Predator)
- Disney Worldwide Publishing (Buffy, Angel)
“Writers must be paid or given missing royalty statements; these contracts must be honored,” said Kowal. “We urge all authors to review their statements to make certain they are in order.”
Writers who are missing royalties or royalty statements may fill out this form hosted by SFWA. Anonymity is guaranteed. Authors needing assistance in seeking resolutions do not need to have an agent or membership in any author organization.
“SFWA wishes to create a cooperative relationship with Disney, but the corporation flatly refuses to work with us,” said Kowal. “They say they are committed to paying the authors, but their actions make it clear that Disney is placing the onus to be paid on the authors, while at the same time attempting to isolate the authors from receiving counsel from their professional author organization.”
In one particular scenario, Fox had licensed the rights to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Dark Horse Comics. Following Disney’s purchase of Fox, they withdrew those rights and granted them to Boom! Studios, which is partially owned by Disney through its purchase of Fox. When one author contacted Boom! about missing royalties, they were told that “royalties don’t transfer.”
In the absence of cooperation from Disney, the Task Force is asking for writers, readers and fans to help contact those who might be affected. One concern is identifying authors whose royalty payments may have been missed as a result of “acquisition integration” subsequent to Disney purchases. They say that if Disney had cooperated, it would have streamlined the process, as the author organizations have current contact information for members and Disney has the dates for each acquisition and which properties would have been affected.
However, the Task Force is discouraging any boycotts, saying this will disproportionally affect the authors’ payments. They do ask that fans and readers purchase the works of affected authors and use the hashtag #DisneyMustPay on social media as well as share the link to the new web site WritersMustBePaid.org. Additional updates will be available at that web site, and we will continue to monitor developments and report as we get new information.