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Writers Form #DisneyMustPay Task Force In Royalty Dispute

Disney has been getting back into the publishing business in a big way in recent years, but the acquisition of several publishing houses has also brought some headaches in the form of writers who say they are owed unpaid royalties.
Half a dozen writers’ organizations have joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) in forming the task force, which is demanding the Walt Disney Company pay all royalties owed to authors.
Disney says it is working to resolve the situation, which arose after it acquired a number of publishing companies, with a spokesperson saying the company “continues to work directly with agents and authors to resolve any issues or any outstanding payments. We are carefully reviewing whether any royalty payments may have been missed as a result of acquisition integration and will take appropriate remedial steps if that is the case.”
The task force started taking shape after renowned sci-fi writer Alan Dean Foster petitioned SFWA’s grievance committee. Foster alleges he is no longer being paid the royalties that were specified in his contract for novelizations he had written connected to movies like Star Wars and Alien. When Foster wrote those books the properties were owned by LucasFilm and 20th Century Fox, but Disney later acquired the rights.
SFWA says that when it contacted Disney, the company said it had purchased the rights, but not the
SFWA discovered that Disney was now the rightsholder to the properties, and contacted the company on Foster’s behalf. In response, Disney claimed that it had purchased the rights, but not the obligations, when it acquired LucasFilm in 2012, and for Alien when it acquired 20th Century Fox in 2019.
Over the past year the dispute has grown as more writers and associations have joined the #DisneyMustPay task force. They contend Disney is putting the onus on writers to prove they are owed the royalties, as opposed to proactively paying the royalties outlined in contracts with the acquired companies.

The other organizations in the task force include the Authors Guild; Horror Writers Association; National Writers Union; Novelists, Inc.; Romance Writers of America; and Sisters In Crime. Four more authors have also signed on, including Neil Gaiman, Tess Gerritsen, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Chuck Wendig. The group has now created its own website at www.writersmustbepaid.org.

The task force has created a list of demands for their talks, including:

  • honor the contracts of all authors writing in prose, comics, or graphic novel formats for its properties
  • provide royalties and royalty statements to its authors
  • update its licensing page with information for authors who are inquiring about missing royalties and statements
  • be transparent in providing a contact person or point for its authors
  • cooperate with professional writers’ organizations providing support to authors and agents

“SFWA wishes to create a cooperative relationship with Disney, but the corporation flatly refuses to work with us,” said author Mary Kowal, who is also the SFWA president. “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.

“Writers must be paid or given missing royalty statements; these contracts must be honored. We urge all authors to review their statements to make certain they are in order.”

The SFWA also says Foster’s dispute with Disney has been resolved, but it is now representing a dozen more writers who say they are missing royalty payments going back a number of years from a variety of companies now owned by Disney, including 20th Century Fox, Boom! Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Disney Publishing Worldwide, LucasFilm, Marvel Worldwide, and MGM.

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