#DisneyMustPay: Last November, Bleeding Cool reported on Alan Dean Foster, who had noted he was no longer being paid royalties on the sales of the Star Wars novelisation, its sequel, Splinter Of The Mind's Eye and of Alien, Aliens, and Alien 3, after the movie rights were bought by Disney.
The Science Fiction Writers Association took up the battle on Foster's behalf but received no response from Disney, something they considered unprecedented. They stated "The larger problem has the potential to affect every writer. 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."
And it is that matter that is now being addressed. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has now formed the #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force with the Authors Guild, Horror Writers Association, National Writers Union, Novelists, Inc., Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime to identify and guide authors who might be owed money. The task force includes members such as Neil Gaiman, Tess Gerritsen, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Chuck Wendig.
They are calling for Disney to "honor contracts now held by Disney and its subsidiaries. Provide royalty payments and statements to all affected authors. Update their licensing page with an FAQ for writers about how to handle missing royalties. Create a clear, easy-to-find contact person or point for affected authors. Cooperate with author organizations that are providing support to authors and agents."
During the initial campaign, SFWA proposed a hypothetical situation based on Disney's position that they had purchased the rights but not the obligations to Mr. Foster's work, stating "In this scenario, Company A might sell a property to their sister Company B to get out of paying royalties." And that is what they appear to have found in Boom Studios.
They state "This situation is no longer hypothetical. Fox had licensed the comics rights to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Dark Horse. After Disney purchased Fox, they withdrew those rights from Dark Horse and granted them to Boom! Comics. When one Buffy author contacted Boom! about missing royalties, they were told that "royalties don't transfer." Disney is one of the owners of Boom! Comics."
And they want to find and contact others who may be affected, naming the following, but that this list is incomplete and "based on properties for which we have verified reports of missing statements and royalties":
- LucasFilm (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc.)
- Boom! Comics (Licensed comics including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc.)
- Dark Horse Comics (Licensed comics including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc.)
20th Century Fox (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alien, etc.)
- MGM (Stargate)
- Marvel WorldWide (Spider-Man, Predator)
- Disney Worldwide Publishing (Buffy, Angel)
There may be some other issues here, however, especially considering comic books. First, Disney does not own Boom. They own a minority stake in the company as part of their purchase of Fox. I am not even sure if Disney knows this.
But as to the rest – this isn't new. When working on licensed comic books, creators often lose any royalties as part of the deal, especially when the license shifts from one publisher to another. I know Titan Comics' accounts have never contacted me after reprinting the Doctor Who comic I wrote for IDW Publishing.
As standard, certainly the it comes to comics, a licensee has an agreement with the licensor. That agreement requires the licensee to hire any freelance talent on work-made-for-hire basis so that the licensor owns any work created based on their IP outright and that the licensor have no obligations to the talent.
Most licensees give their talent royalties on the work they do, but that only applies for as long as the licensee has the license because they cannot legally guarantee royalties past when they have the rights to the property. So when a licensee loses a license, typically the contractual obligation for royalties ends at that point.
To further complicate matters, even if the next licensee wanted to honor the royalty structure, they have no way of verifying the original deal since the previous licensee isn't likely to share their contracts with the next licensee. And in fact, the new licensee often doesn't even have contact information for talent that worked on previously published work.
I am reminded of Don Rosa's words on why he quit comic books, after creating stories, characters and worlds for Disney's Duck comics which were liberally reprinted and republished, used in other media and merchandise, such as the Duck Tales cartoons.
It's an unfortunate fact that there have never been, and I ultimately realized there never will be, any royalties paid to the people who write or draw or otherwise create all the Disney comics you've ever read. We are paid a flat rate per page by one publisher for whom we work directly. After that, no matter how many times that story is used by other Disney publishers around the world, no matter how many times the story is reprinted in other comics, album series, hardback books, special editions, etc., etc., no matter how well it sells, we never receive another cent for having created that work…
It's not even just for licensees. It's been notable that Marvel creators who find their work reprinted in the Hachette hardcover collections in the UK don't get a penny for it. As you may discover if you ever ask Bryan Hitch to sign a copy…