Disney Must Pay

Well, here’s something utterly dreadful, something that hits on multiple levels. Not just concern for a writer who’s dedicated decades of his life to science fiction and fantasy, both original and adapted — but concern for the future of every other creator, writer, artist, and musician. And concern for the future of the entire concept of copyright.

Check the link above for the full details, but the general summary is this: Alan Dean Foster, who has been writing great fiction for as far back as I can remember and who has written lots of tie-in fiction for “Star Wars,” “Alien,” and more, hasn’t been receiving the royalties he was owed by Disney, which has mostly ignored his requests to get paid. They offered to negotiate once, but told him he had to sign a non-disclosure agreement first, which just isn’t done during contract negotiations. He asked the Science Fiction Writers of America for help, and Disney stiff-armed them, too.

Disney’s argument is apparently that when they acquired LucasFilm and Fox, they purchased the right to publish an artist’s work, but they did not purchase the obligation to pay artists for their work. In other words, they say they can publish a book, but they don’t have to pay the author.

This is, obviously, lunacy. No contracts are set up that way, except contracts written by crooks. Reputable publishers pay authors for the right to publish.

It doesn’t make much sense, on the surface. Disney has a near-monopoly on the entertainment industry. They’re worth, at the minimum, hundreds of billions of dollars. The amount of money they owe Foster — who has been diagnosed with cancer and whose wife has serious medical issues — would be a drop in the bucket for a multinational corporation like Disney.

So what’s the motive? Partly because they can, and no one can stop them. If Foster fights them in court, Disney’s lawyers can wait him out ’til he’s bankrupt or dead. If the SFWA helps out, they can drain the organization dry with not much more effort.

But it’s also an attempt to rewrite the rules of copyright. If Disney can prevail, any publishing or entertainment company can break a contract to give themselves no obligation to pay their employees by simply having the rights purchased by a sister corporation. If they can get the courts to bow for this, it means that copyrights will be a tool only for the largest and most powerful corporations. Anyone who publishes a book or an artwork or a piece of music or film could find their rights stripped away with ease.

How can this be stopped? I really don’t know. The SFWA is recommending using the hashtag #DisneyMustPay — but that may be hoping Disney will pay any attention to a social media campaign. The legal system may be of no help at all — besides Disney’s ability to wait out other legal teams ’til they’re out of money, the courts and legislatures have a tendency to roll over for anything the Mouse wants.

We can hope justice will prevail. But in the real world, outside of fiction, comics, and film, justice rarely makes an appearance.

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