Half a dozen professional writers’ organizations have joined with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in forming a joint task to press the Walt Disney Company to ensure it pays all royalties owed to authors. The task force, #DisneyMust Pay, contends that Disney is putting the onus on authors to prove they are owed money, rather than working with authors and author groups to proactively pay authors royalties that are due.
In addition to the SFWA, other organizations that are part of the task force are: the Authors Guild; Horror Writers Association; National Writers Union; Novelists, Inc.; Romance Writers of America; and Sisters In Crime. Four authors have also signed on: Neil Gaiman, Tess Gerritsen, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Chuck Wendig.
The task force has released a list of issues that it wants Disney and its subsidiaries to address:
- honor the contracts of all authors writing in prose, comics, or graphic novel formats for its properties
- provide royalties and royalty statements to its authors
- update its licensing page with information for authors who are inquiring about missing royalties and statements
- be transparent in providing a contact person or point for its authors
- cooperate with professional writers’ organizations providing support to authors and agents
“SFWA wishes to create a cooperative relationship with Disney, but the corporation flatly refuses to work with us,” Kowal, who is SFWA president, said in a statement. “They say they are committed to paying the authors, but their actions make it clear that Disney is placing the onus to be paid on the authors, while at the same time attempting to isolate the authors from receiving counsel from their professional author organization.”
She added: “Writers must be paid or given missing royalty statements; these contracts must be honored. We urge all authors to review their statements to make certain they are in order.”
A Disney Company representative, responding to PW, said that the company "continues to work directly with agents and authors to resolve any issues or any outstanding payments."
Last year, Alan Dean Foster petitioned SFWA’s grievance committee because he was no longer being paid the royalties that were specified in his contract for novelizations he had written of movies, including Star Wars and Alien. SFWA discovered that Disney was now the rightsholder to the properties, and contacted the company on Foster’s behalf. In response, Disney claimed that it had purchased the rights, but not the obligations, of the contract for Star Wars when it acquired LucasFilm in 2012, and for Alien when it acquired 20th Century Fox in 2019.
While Foster’s dispute with Disney has since been resolved, according to the SFWA, approximately a dozen more authors have contacted the organization with requests for assistance concerning missing royalty payments from Disney "going back years," including authors writing for Disney-owned properties including 20th Century Fox, Disney Publishing Worldwide, LucasFilm, and Marvel Worldwide. Many of these companies have been acquired by Disney in recent years, making it difficult for authors and agents to identify who to contact over royalty questions; others simply license Disney properties.
Authors writing for Disney properties who have experienced missing royalties and/or royalty statements may contact #DisneyMustPay here.
Correction: This story initially mistakenly included MGM among the companies owned by, or in licensing deals with, the Walt Disney Company. This story has been updated with further information and for clarity.