The man who helped start Star Wars’ literary universe as we know it is now saying Disney is failing to pay up.
Alan Dean Foster is the man behind several Star Wars and Alien movie novelizations, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America organization is standing with him over claims that Disney is not paying royalties for some of his earlier, classic works. The SFWA released a statement and interview on Wednesday in support of Foster, which includes a letter from the sci-fi author to Disney’s representatives (which you can read here).
In his letter, Foster claims that in the years following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, the company has stopped royalty payments for Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, his ghostwritten novelization of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (credited to George Lucas). He said the same for the follow-up novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. It was designed to serve as a possible sequel film if A New Hope didn’t do great at the box office, but is now considered the first installment in the now non-canonical Star Wars Expanded Universe.
Foster’s complaints go beyond the galaxy far, far away, however. The author’s letter also states that Disney failed to pay royalties entirely for his Alien novelizations, which the company acquired after the purchase of 20th Century Fox in 2019. He noted that he and his agent have tried to negotiate with Disney to resolve it all—mainly because he and his wife have ongoing medical issues and the royalties would help with bills—only for Disney to ask Foster to sign an NDA before talks could even commence. Here’s part of his letter sent to the company:
“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.”
SFWA president Mary Robinette Kowal also shared her own letter in the press release, saying that the organization chose to go public with the accusations because the situation is unprecedented—not just because it’s impacting a prolific sci-fi writer with decades of experience in the industry who helped form Star Wars’ literary voice, but because SFWA is worried this problem could happen to other writers in the future. Authors who don’t have the same reputation Foster does and, therefore, may not have the resources to fight back.
“The larger problem has the potential to affect every writer. Disney’s argument is that they have purchased the rights but not the obligations of the contract. In other words, they believe they have the right to publish work, but are not obligated to pay the writer no matter what the contract says. If we let this stand, it could set precedent to fundamentally alter the way copyright and contracts operate in the United States. All a publisher would have to do to break a contract would be to sell it to a sibling company,” Kowal wrote.
SFWA is asking Disney to either pay Foster for back and future royalties or cease publication—either permanently or until new contracts can be signed. The group is also asking any other writers who may have had the same experience with Disney to come forward.
Countless authors—including those who’ve written for Disney and Star Wars specifically—have already taken to social media in support of Foster as well using the hashtags #DearMickey #DisneyMustPay. We’ve reached out to Disney for comment, and we’ll let you know should we hear back.
Update 11/23/2020, 4:15 p.m. ET:
After publication, a Disney representative reached out and confirmed that a meeting has been set up between the company and Foster after Thanksgiving, and clarified what the company felt were a few misgivings about Foster and SFWA’s recollection of events. The representative would not confirm or deny whether Disney is trying to renegotiate Foster’s contract, saying the meeting is to “discuss details.”
The representative says Disney tried to meet with SFWA and Foster’s agent for over a year—with the latest correspondence being from Disney in March 2020, which the representative said previously went unanswered by Foster or his agent. They claim Foster was never asked to sign an NDA for the discussions, but that there was a request for confidentiality over email as talks continued. In addition, the representative said the issue only pertained to the Alien novels and that Disney was unaware of royalties issues involving Star Wars or Splinter of the Mind’s Eye—though they couldn’t say whether there were royalties issues involving those books.
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