The Science Fiction Writer’s Association of America (SFWA) is demanding Disney pay overdue royalty fees to one of its members, Alan Dean Foster, best known as the writer of the original “Star Wars” novelization, published in 1976, six months before the release of the film, under the title “Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker.” Foster’s writing career with “Star Wars” continued with 1978’s “Star Wars: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” and, most recently, the 2015 novelization for “The Force Awakens.” The author also contributed the novelizations for “Alien,” “Aliens,” and “Alien 3.”
In a letter written to Disney (as published on the SFWA website), Foster claimed the studio stopped paying him royalties on his first two “Star Wars” books and all three “Alien” books after it acquired Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox, respectively. The author said he’d “never been paid royalties on any of these, or even issued royalty statements for them.” Furthermore, Foster said that any time he’d contacted Disney the studio got back to him requesting he sign a nondisclosure agreement before talking.
“I’ve signed a lot of NDAs in my 50-year career,” Foster wrote. “Never once did anyone ever ask me to sign one prior to negotiations. For the obvious reason that once you sign, you can no longer talk about the matter at hand. Every one of my representatives in this matter, with many, many decades of experience in such business, echo my bewilderment.”
Foster added, “My wife has serious medical issues and in 2016 I was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer. We could use the money. Not charity: just what I’m owed. I’ve always loved Disney. The films, the parks, growing up with the Disneyland TV show. I don’t think Walt would approve of how you are currently treating me. Maybe someone in the right position just hasn’t received the word, though after all these months of ignored requests and queries, that’s hard to countenance.”
Sources close to Disney told IndieWire the studio had been talking to Foster’s agent and the SFWA between August 2019 and March about the issue. The source said Disney requested a meeting with Foster’s team in March but are still awaiting a response. Additionally, Disney was only in conversations with Foster’s agent over the royalties regarding the “Alien” book. The source said Foster’s letter was the first time Disney heard the author was having additional issues with his “Star Wars” books. Disney remains open to resuming conversations should Foster be interested. As for the NDA, the source said it’s standard practice for Disney when discussing these issues.
SFWA president Mary Robinette Kowal wrote in her own statement that the association had no choice but to go public with the demand. As Kowal said, “If they are doing this to Alan Dean Foster, one of the great science fiction writers of our time, then what are they doing to the younger writers who do not know that a contract is a contract?”
“The larger problem has the potential to affect every writer,” Kowal said. “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.”
In an email to IndieWire, Foster echoed Kowal’s statement by writing, “If Disney can do this to me and to other writers, any company can do it to any creative individual.
The SFWA is calling on Disney to pay back Foster’s royalties or cease the publications of his novelizations until a new contract is signed. Head over to the SFWA’s website to read more on the issue.
Additional reporting by Tyler Hersko.
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