Alan Dean Foster is an iconic name to a particular generation of sci-fi fans. If you were a fan and grew up anytime between the 1970s and 1990s, chances are you had a well-read copy of one of his many Star Trek, Alien, or Star Wars novelizations lurking somewhere on a shelf. It was because Foster was so beloved by fans that there was a backlash against Disney when Foster revealed last year that the Hollywood megalith has stopped paying him royalties on his work.
The story involves Disney’s relentless string of acquisitions in recent years, namely of Lucasfilm back in 2012 and 21st Century Fox in 2019. As part of these purchases, Disney acquired some of the biggest franchises in cinema, including Star Wars and Alien.
Last November, Foster publicly published a letter to Disney through the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). The letter accused Disney of failing to meet their obligations for several of Foster’s works, including the novelization of Star Wars: A New Hope, the first original tie-in novel Splinter of the Minds Eye, and the novelizations of the Alien movies, with Foster stating that Disney “never paid royalties on any of these, or even issued royalty statements for them.”
Foster further claimed that the corporation wanted him to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they would even speak to him, ignoring both his agents and queries from the SFWA.
"I know this is what gargantuan corporations often do. Ignore requests and inquiries, hoping the petitioner will simply go away. Or possibly die. But I’m still here, and I am still entitled to what you owe me. Including not to be ignored, just because I’m only one lone writer. How many other writers and artists out there are you similarly ignoring?"
The author said that while the amount owed is “minuscule” by Disney standards, it isn’t small to him, revealing that both he and his wife have serious medical issues.
The Rebellion vs the Empire
For their part, Disney claimed that they had been in negations with Foster and his agent for a year over the Alien novelizations and were unaware of any issues with Star Wars. The company believed that when it bought Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox, they purchased only the rights to the franchises and not any associated contracts.
Indeed, Alan Dean Foster wasn’t the only one who has been stiffed over money, with Disney failing to pay authors across a whole range of its acquisitions. In December, The Wall Street Journal revealed that the SFWA is dealing with claims from writers linked to other projects such as Indiana Jones and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A Disney spokesman said: “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 public spat was a PR disaster for Disney, with online commentators seeing it as a straightforward “little guy vs. corporate monster” story. However, after months of silence, it now appears there could be some movement, with the SFWA and Fosters’ legal team seemingly having come to a resolution with Disney.
Writing on his personal blog earlier this month, Foster revealed that a formal statement was imminent over the dispute, saying “the irritating imbroglio with Disney, which you may have read about, is moving rapidly toward a mutually agreeable conclusion.”
While there has been no further word from any party as of yet, it appears that Disney may well pay Foster what he’s entitled to. If Disney had been allowed to get away with not paying the author, it would set an alarming precedent for how contracts work under US law, and Disney is no stranger to getting laws changed when it suits them.
While the affair may soon be drawing to a conclusion, the damage is already done for Disney. Many Star Wars fans have said that the matter is another sign of how the brand is being exploited by a cash-hungry Hollywood and something that wouldn’t have happened under an independent Lucasfilm.
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