Many terrible things have happened this year. So much of this year has been so awful and at such a scale that our sense of outrage can be distorted by the volume of it. Arguably the mendacious behaviour of the Disney corporation is a very minor entry in the log of shitty things people have done to other people (or stood by and let happen) this year. That doesn’t stop it being fundamentally awful though.

If you aren’t already aware, in the various acquisitions of media companies Disney has made over the past few years, they have acquired the rights to many books such as novelizations of notable films. Many of these are books written by veteran sci-fi writer Alan Dean Foster. For many people, his novel versions of sci-fi films where the only way to engage or re-engage with beloved films prior to the era of internet streaming services.

Disney have not only been refusing to pay royalties on these works but have advanced an extraordinary claim regarding copyright. Essentially that as the licence for these works had been sold to them, that they no longer have to compensate the author (who did not gain anything from the sale).

The SFWA has taken up the case and has coverage here https://www.sfwa.org/2020/11/18/disney-must-pay/ There is also coverage at File 770 here http://file770.com/the-disneymustpay-alan-dean-foster-and-sfwa-joint-press-conference/

Disney has been both infamously litigious around protecting it’s own IP and also has aggressively lobbied for changes in copyright law to try and maintain control over material that should have passed into the public domain.

As I said in the opening paragraph, there are certainly worse things people are doing to other people but there is a petty and mendacious quality to Disney’s behaviour here that epitomises the disdain for others that characterises the bully as a character.

17 thoughts on “#DisneyMustPay

  1. But if I tried to advance my legal theory that I have the right to consume Disney’s product but don’t have the obligation to pay them for it their Lawyers would be all over me like a cheap suit.

    Disney has been descending into the realm of evil for decades. This is merely more more signpost on the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. An interesting application of Disney’s theory would be that if somebody bought a company that had an existing licence from Disney to make products with Disney IP, then that somebody would then own the Disney IP

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder if there are authors out there, that have signed the NDA and for that reason, cant publicly claim they were screwed by Disney as well.
      It cant be just Foster – that would be just an oversight and doublking down would be weird? Maybe not.

      If there are more authors I can imagine this being a shift away from copyright in the US and towards an IP-based system where you own what you paid for, no matter who created it. Which would be very bad news indeed.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I figure from Disney’s perspective this is pretty smart. If Foster gives up the fight, they win. If he goes to court and loses, they win. If he wins, the amount they’ll have to pay won’t make a blip in their bottom line. Their legal settlements in 2018 alone were $38 million; paying damages and attorney fees won’t be a problem for them.
    Of course it’s still shitty and unconscionable, but when did that stop corporate America?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are so many people who must be owed royalties, is there a chance of a class action suit? This is out of my area of expertise, but it seems like you can only gain corporate honesty when the price of dishonesty is higher.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The NDA they demanded before opening talks made me especially itchy. It’s so nakedly an invitation for them to bully Foster. If he accepts, they offer him ruinous terms on a “take it or leave it” basis, and he can’t even tell everyone how Disney is trying to put the screws to him. NDAs are for trade secrets, not attempts to fulfill the agreements that you inherited.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve signed an NDA once or thrice, and in all cases it was because I was going into the facility “where the sausage is made” and seeing the very machines the sausage was made on, meeting the sausage-makers, and tasting upcoming new versions of sausage.

      At no time was it before a legal discussion, or regarding something I worked on myself.

      At one time, it was literally a company that made cartoons and the toys thereof! Or was that two different companies?

      Liked by 2 people

    2. One of the commenters on the SFWA posting was noting that the other ‘advantage’ of the NDA is that if Foster refuses to sign it (he commented that none of the agents he had ever talked to were as boggled as he was that this was a requirement) then Disney can just say that Foster was the one who walked away and thus they have no further obligations. Which sounds about right. It’s not even just a way to prevent him from saying how bad the deal they offered him was: it’s a way of discouraging him from even pursuing his rights in the first place.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. MRK’s discussion of how this sets a very bad precedent is spot-on. It is literally a license to print money and not share it with the people who made the “product” possible.

    Plus, he seems a good chap. Bravo to him for bringing this out in the open.

    If only he actually had a minidrag to spit poison at lawyers.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. They are trying to overturn copyright law. It’s declaring that contracts aren’t really contracts if the owner of the asset gets changed, that credited writer for hire deals can simply be negated. It may be something of a fishing expedition, but it’s obviously a really scary, damaging one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Strictly speaking, it’s not even a writer for hire deal. To my understanding, if it were a strict ‘writer for hire’ deal, then this would be acceptable, because he would have been technically an employee at the time, and the copyright would have been assigned to the organization that hired him. Instead, this was a contract deal: he was granted a limited licence to use the Star Wars IP, but the books are his (Splinter of the Mind’s Eye certainly was, at least, though the first Star Wars novelization was ghost-written and published under Lucas’ name), and the royalties are his because he has the copyright on the book itself.

      Mostly this just seems to be Disney playing the ‘Venture Capitalist’ trick of buying only the assets of a company and leaving the obligations to the original firm as it goes bankrupt. Which doesn’t always work, but works more often than it should.

      I’m not a lawyer, but based on my understanding there should actually be three parties involved in this, Foster, Disney, and whoever the actual publisher is (which appears to be Del Rey/Ballantine/Random House/Penguin). Lucasfilm’s (and thus now Disney’s) role would have been purely to act as a middleman getting the royalties from the publisher, taking their licence fee percentage off the top, and then passing the rest on to Foster, because he wrote the book. In other words, legally speaking, this wasn’t actually Disney’s money in the first place, if I’m interpreting it correctly. They should be acting only as an intermediary to get their cut as the owner of the trademark properties.

      There is, of course, no doubt that Disney is planning on just burying any complaints in lawyers.no matter the actual legal standing. It wouldn’t be the first time.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Lucas actually gave Foster a teeny-tiny percentage of the points of “Star Wars” to make up for not having his name on the cover. Enough to buy a nice house, but not enough to live on forever.

        SOTME is Foster’s work, not for hire, so he deserves whatever his original contract specifies.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. @Lurkertype:
        Well, of course he does.

        My point was that, depending on the wording of the contract, that money may be legally Foster’s and Disney holding onto it isn’t just breach of contract but actually theft.

        Mostly I’m remembering an issue from the SCO v. IBM trial where it turned out that not only did SCO not own the rights to Unix they claimed they had, they just had a licence from the actual to act as proxies and sell it on behalf of said owner and take a percentage, with most of the money they’d earned from those sales actually supposed to be held in escrow for the owner. That money was legally not SCOs at all, and didn’t count as a loan, which meant it couldn’t be held up even by declaring bankruptcy. (Turned out that SCO not only hadn’t been keeping up the proper bookkeeping for the escrow funds, but when told they had to pay this, they promptly went out to find a judge who hadn’t heard the whole story yet and got him to accept their bankruptcy filing.)

        If it is that sort of thing (and obviously I don’t know for sure, but given that the book’s copyright sits with Foster it could be) then that’s in many ways more of an issue for Disney, because courts tend to look at this sort of financial shenanigans even less fondly than ‘just’ breach of contract.

        And, really, whether it is this or not, I’m sure a lot of other companies looking at Disney licences are going to be taking a second look at things.

        Liked by 1 person

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