When Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, and 20th Century Fox in 2019, it also acquired a ton of content. That content had to have been created at some point, a process which typically involves human beings and contracts.
But apparently Disney has neglected to honor those contracts, at least in the case of Alan Dean Foster. Foster is the author of such successful official movie novelizations as Star Wars and its sequel, Splinter of the Mind's Eye, as well as Alien, Aliens, and Alien 3. And Disney hasn't paid him any of the royalties made by those books — royalties that he is contractually owed — since they acquired LucasFilm and Fox, respectively.
As Foster wrote in a letter, published by the Science Fiction Writer's Association last week:
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 summed up Disney's defense by saying that they (in her words) insist that they purchased the rights to all of that content, but not the obligations of the contract.
This is, to put it lightly, bullshit.
Foster has tried to reconcile this non-payment issue in private. Even before his wife was diagnosed with cancer, straddling him with medical bills that he should be able to pay with the money that he's owed. At one point, Disney did agree to meet with him and his lawyers — but only if they agreed to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they even had the initial meeting about the fact that Disney owns the contract that legally obligates them to pay money to Foster. This is a pretty wild and belligerent negotiating tactic. While it's not uncommon to tie things up with an NDA when a negotiation is finalized, preventing the opposing party from even talking about a negotiation that hasn't even started yet is truly unnecessary (and practically unheard of) strong-arming.
Since Foster refused to sign the NDA, Disney has now stopped answering his lawyers. Which is why Foster escalated it to SFWA. As Cory Doctorow explained in his own newsletter:
Foster brought his case to SFWA's grievance committee – a group that has
worked on my behalf in the past, extracting a fee from a multinational
publisher that commissioned and accepted a story from me but then
offered an odious and unacceptable contract they refused to amend.
Usually griefcom work happens in the background: a SFWA member goes to
griefcom, griefcom goes to the publisher, the publisher settles. This is
the first time in more than a decade that SFWA has gone public with a
If Disney gets away with this, it sets a pretty terrifying precedent: essentially, any publisher can sign a contract with a content creator, then sell that contract to another company (which may even be a part of the same larger conglomerate ownership), and then both companies are freed from obligations to uphold that contract, even as they continue to profit off of the content.