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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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The House of Ideas meets the House of Mouse

Well, the Disney-Marvel deal still seems to be a topic of much interest, so let’s talk a little more about what it all means.

The first thing it means for Marvel is a great deal more financial security. Much like DC with Time Warner, Marvel is going to get a bit of a cushion if they have a financial downturn.

But the first thing that comics fans care about is — what’s this mean for my stash of new comics every week? And it’s not going to mean a single thing. Disney will probably never meddle in the comics publishing side of things, ’cause frankly, comics are a tiny, tiny part of the entertainment industry. A hit movie or video game makes more money than all of Marvel’s or DC’s comics do in a year. Disney won’t care whether Peter Parker marries Mary Jane, whether Steve Rogers or Bucky Barnes is Captain America, whether Jean Grey comes back to life again or not.

Right now, everyone is assuming that they’re going to Disneyfy all of Marvel’s books to make them more kid-friendly or even tween-friendly. I don’t see it happening. Disney owns Miramax Films, and they didn’t release any kid-friendly versions of “Pulp Fiction,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Dogma,” “Trainspotting,” “Kinky Boots,” “No Country for Old Men,” or “There Will Be Blood,” did they? Disney cares about making money, and as long as Marvel makes money, they won’t try to fix what ain’t broke.

The fact of the matter is — Disney is a gigantic, multi-national entertainment corporation. They care about making money. Disney does not care about comic books, not enough to meddle pointlessly. Disney does care about movies, TV, and video games. ‘Cause that’s where the money is in the entertainment biz.

And Marvel’s characters are proven money-makers in movies and computer games. That’s why Disney wants them. And they must want them awful bad, ’cause they’re not going to see a dime from “Iron Man 2” and probably not from “Iron Man 3” if Marvel had a three-picture deal with Paramount. Same for Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor, the Avengers, or any other Marvel property whose film rights are held by another studio. A contract’s a contract, and there ain’t nothing in the world that the Mouse can do in that case. They can offer to buy the contract from Paramount, but that’ll be real expensive, maybe too expensive. Disney is probably at least three years away from being able to get a Marvel superhero movie out with their name in front of the credits.

But Disney knew that going in, and they still made the offer — which means they’re pretty confident that Marvel is going to be in a position to make Disney a very large amount of cash. They want Marvel’s superheroes in their creative stable bad enough to shell out $4 billion for them, and that may mean they’ll also be motivated to bargain for the rights held by other studios. After all, Disney has some of the deepest pockets of all the movie studios, and they may just have the pocket change on hand to get Tony Stark away from Paramount, or Spidey away from Columbia, or the Fantastic Four away from Fox.

Will the movies be good? The best we can do is keep our fingers crossed. Sure, Disney has always had a mixed record on live-action films, but the same goes for Marvel — or don’t you remember “Daredevil,” “Ghost Rider,” or the “Fantastic Four” movies? The hopeful side of me remembers that Pixar has a lot more say in Disney than they used to have — and Pixar’s one superhero movie was one of the best ever.

Are we going to see crossovers? Not on film, not on TV. Maybe in video games — the “Kingdom Hearts” series crammed in every Disney character they could, and they might try something like that again. But we’ll definitely see some crossovers in the comics, and probably before the end of next year. Probably not “Hannah Montana: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” or “MODOK in Wonderland” — but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see some sort of kid-friendly crossover, similar to DC’s “Superman and Bugs Bunny” crossover a decade ago. I’ll admit I’d really love to see if the Hulk can get as mad as Donald Duck can…

But there’s gonna be a lot of stuff that’ll happen that we’ll have no way to predict. We’re down the rabbit hole now, and it’s definitely a whole new world out there…

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Disney Buys Marvel?!

Holy guacamole!

The Walt Disney Co. said Monday it is acquiring Marvel Entertainment Inc. for $4 billion in cash and stock, bringing characters like Iron Man and Spider-Man into the family of Mickey Mouse and WALL-E.

Under the deal, Disney will acquire ownership of 5,000 Marvel characters. Many of them, including favorites such as the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, were co-created by the comic book legend Stan Lee.

I have no idea what this means. I’m still a bit besmoggled by the whole announcement.

I know that this definitely solves what I always saw as one of Marvel’s weaknesses against DC — DC has been owned and supported by Time-Warner for decades, while Marvel was mostly on its own, despite all of its successes. Marvel now has Disney’s considerable economic and marketing clout to fall back on, if necessary.

Does this mean we’ll see Howard the Duck go back to his more Disneyesque appearance that he used to have? Heck, are we gonna see a Howard the Duck/Scrooge McDuck crossover? That might be fairly cool.

Okay, I’m also looking forward to the inevitable Wolverine/Mickey Mouse team-up.

Wow, still pretty blown away by this. What are y’all thinking about this whole thing?

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