Disney’s writer wage theft, a year on.
In November 2020, SFWA came forward with a stunning accusation: Disney had told the beloved writer Alan Dean Foster (author of the original, bestselling Star Wars novelization) that they would not ever pay him the royalties he was owed.
Disney argued that Foster’s contract — where he was guaranteed wages for his creative labor on the Star Wars book, which was written before the film was complete and formed the basis for many elements of the final movie — was with Lucasfilm, not Disney. Disney said that when it acquired Lucasfilm, it only acquired its assets (including the right to continue publishing Foster’s book), but not its liabilities (including the obligation to pay royalties to Foster).
The contract lawyer’s technical term for this is tu stupri cognati mihi (“are you fucking kidding me”) (I made that up, but it really should be true). In truth, this “we only acquire assets, not liabilities” argument is grounded in the idea that the workers Disney stole from couldn’t afford to fight them.
That’s where SFWA came in: as an association, it had resources that Foster himself — elderly, sick with cancer, caring for a a sick wife — couldn’t marshal. The org kicked off #DisneyMustPay, a shaming campaign that called on Disney to honor its obligations to the creative workers who made the company its billions.
The campaign rapidly picked up many supporters, especially among creative workers, who understood that if Disney’s theory about acquiring assets and not liabilities was true, then no one was safe. Any royalty-based arrangement — with a label, studio or publisher — could be upended by incorporating a numbered LLC in a corporate crime haven like Delaware or Nevada or South Dakota, and transfering the assets to it. The liabilities, meanwhile, would be owed by another numbered company that could be discarded.
As the campaign picked up steam and more writers came forward, the full scope of Disney’s wage-theft was revealed. The Alan Dean Foster heist wasn’t an isolated incident: it was part of a systematic program of theft from a whole cohort of writers, stemming from Disney’s orgy of acquisitions that saw it merge with…