Disney Is Still Trying To Avoid Paying Its Writers

from the hollywood-accounting dept

There are all sorts of silly and made up reasons to be mad at Disney, but those shouldn’t take away from the many legitimate ways in which Disney is a terrible, awful company. For years, it was one of the most aggressive in pushing for ever expanded copyrights, and was one of the chief lobbyists pushing to extend copyright in all sorts of directions. To be honest, over the last two decades, some of the other big Hollywood/media companies have gotten even more aggressive than Disney, but Disney has certainly remained aggressively awful.

And, of course, any time someone pushes back on this aspect of Disney colonizing culture, they pull out the copyright landlord’s favorite justification: “we’re doing it for the artists.” Over and over again, we see the big TV and movie studios, the giant record labels, and the biggest publishers claiming they need to fight for ever expanded copyrights to help the actual creators — all while doing absolutely everything they possibly can to avoid paying anyone anything at all.

Even for those of us deeply aware of the nature of “Hollywood Accounting,” the story that came out late in 2020 was still stunning. The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) kicked off a campaign on behalf of famed author Alan Dean Foster — who wrote many of the early Star Wars books. Disney had claimed that when it bought the Hollywood studio 20th Century Fox, that it only bought the assets and none of the liabilities, and therefore, Disney’s lawyers claimed, it could keep on publishing the books Foster wrote without paying any royalties.

Now, that’s quite a trick. Indeed, if you could do that, well, then it would seem to create quite a lucrative business opportunity. Sign up a bunch of creatives to publishing deals. Hell, promise them extremely high royalty rates (you’re not going to end up paying them, so who cares?), and then after the contracts are in, sell off the “assets” but not the “liabilities” of your business to a different entity, allowing them to keep publishing and you never actually have to pay any royalties. Genius! Pure evil. But, genius.

But it seems especially rich that Disney, which has spent so many decades insisting its out there fighting the good fight to support “creative artists” to be doing this. Recently, the SFWA published an update on the campaign, noting that while Disney did agree to pay some high profile authors, it is still refusing to do it for less well known authors:

You’ve paid some authors what you owed them. But there are other creators that you don’t want to talk about. And, because you did not take our advice, new creators are coming forward who are owed money, too.

You still refuse to recognize your obligations to lesser-known authors who wrote media tie-in works for Marvel, for Star Wars, for Aliens, for Predator, for Buffy: TVS, and more, universes that you’ve bought the rights to, along with the obligations to those creators. You’ve re-published their works but have failed to do even the bare necessities of contract and talent management. You’ve failed to pay these writers royalties they’re legally owed and have not given them the courtesy of royalty statements and reprint notices.

Cory Doctorow has written up an interesting post on this as well, noting how it lays bare Disney’s blatant hypocrisy:

This is shameful, and it points to the hollowness of Disney’s long-running holy war to get us all to “respect copyright.” Disney respects copyright only to the extent that it serves as a charter for corporate abuse of creators, or a means by which Disney can reach beyond its corporate walls and dictate the conduct of its competitors or other industries. When it comes to copyright as a tool for securing the rightful wages of creative workers, Disney exhibits contempt far beyond the taunts of The Pirate Bay or the insouciance of bootleg DVD hawkers in a night market.

Copyright’s power to create worker power has always been oversold, mostly by giant entertainment companies who correctly understood that the more copyright creators got, the more copyright they could expropriate through non-negotiable contracts. Copyright isn’t useless to creators, but it is also no substitute for fair contracting laws, labor organizing, and antitrust enforcement.

His article also looks at a few others ways that Disney is trying to use copyright to abuse, rather than help artists.

Of course, I was curious what organizations, that pretend to “represent the creators,” had to say about all of this, so I went to the website of CreativeFuture. Their website insists that they’re there to help “creative people.” They even have this amazingly ridiculous banner (that they apparently registered a trademark over, because why not?)

So, here’s a story where the industry is literally refusing to pay creative people what they’re contractually owed, for their creations. Surely, CreativeFuture has spoken up about this attack on the livelihoods of creators, right? I mean, the organization even set up a whole hashtag campaign, #StandCreative, to pretend it is “standing with” creators. So, surely, they’ve come out in support of Alan Dean Foster and the SFWA and all of the creators Disney is not paying, right? Right?!?

Huh. Guess not.

Instead, the top article on their website… is attacking EFF, the organization Cory Doctorow works for. Doctorow is out there advocating for artists to actually get paid, while CreativeFuture is attacking his work and pretending it actually supports creatives.

I wonder why CreativeFuture isn’t supporting these creative people? Hmm. I mean, I’m sure that CreativeFuture’s board of directors would be right there at the front of the line demanding that Disney pay the writers it owes, right? I mean, look, let’s just grab a randomly selected CreativeFuture board member and see…

So who is that? Oh, just the senior executive vice president, secretary and general counsel to the… oh…. The Walt Disney Company. Ah, well. That explains it.

Well, I’m sure some of CreativeFuture’s other board members would note his conflict of interest and stand up for the actual creators, right? Hmm. There’s Leah Weil, the General Counsel of Sony Pictures, so that’s not going to work. Oh, and the General Counsel of Warner Bros., John Rogovin, (well until just recently). Well, I’m sure this other person, Kimberly Harris will stand up for… oh, oh I see. General Counsel for NBCUniversal, you say?

Yes, yes, I’m beginning to see why CreativeFuture apparently wants nothing to do with this actual campaign to support actual creators. It might interfere with the interests of the Hollywood studios that set up CreativeFuture as a pure front group in the first place.

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Companies: creativefuture, disney, sfwa

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Comments on “Disney Is Still Trying To Avoid Paying Its Writers”

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James Burkhardt (profile) says:


One of the loopholes they play here is that Lucas retains the requirement to pay royalties, but because they don’t sell the books so they don’t have royalties to pay. Under your example, you’d still be left with the requirement to pay your loan, even when you no longer own the car.

As I try (and likely fail to make clear) to point out in my comment, the issue is the copyright ownership transfer shouldn’t be able to be separated from the requirement to pay. In your example, the finance company owns your car, not you. You can’t transfer the vehicle without the agreement of the financier, generally requiring the finance obligations to follow the vehcile.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
James Burkhardt (profile) says:

One thing that I keep looking at here is how it affects contract law more broadly.

The contract between the author and lucas isn’t fulfilled. The contract required ongoing royalties. We’ve seen multiple instances in recent years that the copyright ownership should revert to the author if the royalties stipulated in the copyright transfer are not paid. Lucas does not have the rights necessary to effect a binding transfer of copyright, because they do not own the rights free and clear. The asset they bought is the contract that provides Lucas ownership of the copyright, but that ownership was conditional.

Cory Doctrow focuses on the implications for copyright, but I think the impact on any contract that creates an ongoing liability is huge, and that should scare everyone.

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Koby (profile) says:

Empty Contract

It’s difficult to see how there could be ongoing publishing rights without ongoing royalties payments. If the original corporation isn’t paying the royalty, and neither is the new company to which the publishing right was transferred, then it would seem that no continued publishing right exists. Unless some kind of unconscionable contract was used.

ECA (profile) says:

Iv suggested from the past

The experiences, contracts, history of he music industry and movie industry.
Crooked isnt the word for it. They will do it, Legally or Illegally.
They dont hold the Cards, they Hold 5 decks of cards up the sleeve.
How many of you have looked at the 3 stooges, and THEIR contract problems? They didnt say anything, because they NEEDED the jobs. They didnt understand that ANY other company would have Paid them MORE, just to work for the OTHER studio’s. They did so much work, and got paid so little.
Do you know about the Range of LOCAL work for the Industry? And Anything done Local, is 1 certain rate. I will bet you have seen one of the furthest locations Many times. Its a desert section, that Even Star trek used. Past that point they get Bonus money for traveling.
In the music industry of the past, and Some Currently, the artists have had to FIGHT to get their Music back.

Gets Sued cause he Sounds like HIMSELF from the past?

The problems tend to be CONTRACTS that take RIGHTS AWAY.

Even Elvis had a REALLY bad manager. Elvis never went out of the country to do a show. His manager didnt like Flying.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I mean if you download a cam copy of the new Dr Strange you face damages that are crippling for life…

But if a corporation steals from an artist & profits there is no actual penalty.

Neat trick pretending that they can keep the asset but not the liabilities, they are in breach of the contract that allowed them control of the asset & now are doing commercial copyright infringement.

They told us & told us how horrible it was to steal from artists… perhaps they should have listened to what they were saying.

That One Guy (profile) says:


They told us & told us how horrible it was to steal from artists… perhaps they should have listened to what they were saying.

Simple misunderstanding, their objection wasn’t that the artist wasn’t getting paid in that circumstance it’s that they weren’t getting paid. So long as the second condition is met robbing the artist is perfectly fine as they demonstrate by their actions.

Anonymous Coward says:


What do you expect? The copyright cultists’ world is dog-eats-dog world or rather pig-eat-pig world. There are pigs and then there are pigs. Not all animals are created equal, some are more equal than others. The corporate overlords feed off society like it’s a feeding trough to them, what’s “starving artists” to them but also food? Here is a fitting analogy illustrate this. The corporate overlords are the plantation owners, the “starving artists” are the overseers, and the society are the black slaves toiling in the cotton fields. The overseers are never of the elites, they are of white trash, a lower class but still above the black slaves. Yes, a privileged class, but still a resource to be exploit by their betters; The plantation owners are in the business of enriching themselves, not their overseers. How can people not see this, I don’t understand.

Walt Disney Company says:

This is all you guys’ fault. If you didn’t highlight how easy it is to download movies for free and promote piracy by purchasing second-hand DVDs, we’d have the money to pay everyone properly.
(In reality, we’d just keep the miniscule extra proceeds from these activities ceasing while continuing to make out like kings by pleading poverty to the taxman.)

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Thad (profile) says:

I suspect they have no intention of testing the “we bought the rights but not the obligations” legal theory in court; that would be risky, to say the least.

I think their intention is just to keep doing what they’ve been doing: assume the majority of the creators they’re stiffing either won’t notice or won’t have the resources to get legal representation, pay off the handful that do, and consider that a win because they’re paying less than they would be if they sent checks to everyone they owed them to.

Arijirija says:

Re: Re:

It could be worse, Naughty Autie. You could wind up a copyright enforcer:
“Sally from Reception started crying in terror. “Oh God, I wish I’d taken up something simpler and safer, like playing tag with tigers in Cambodian minefields! Or joined the Association of Recreational Drano Drinkers of America or became a Crack Whore for Christ in Canberra! Anything but publishing! Anything but!””

Anonymous Coward says:

Oh the poor starving artists!

Oh my god! Someone please think about those poor starving artists. Someone help them, for god’s sake!

Really… someone shoot down that sacred cow of the copyright cultists for fuck’s sake!

Who cares about the “starving artists”? Sorry, but bluntly, they are part of the “Intellectual Property ” system that abuse society and hence part of the problem. Abusers get abused, cry me a river!

They choose to lay with the dogs and they are surprised they get fleas sometimes!?! This is the bed they are helping making, let them lie on their bed they made! Helping a company to EXPLOIT society, if you get exploited, you DESERVE it!

This “Intellectual Property” system was supposed to be about and for the society. All this hand-wringing about the rights of the “starving artists” make me nauseous. The exploiters get exploited too? Cry me a river! They can join the club and get in behind of the line with rest of us. What about the RIGHTS of the society?

On that note, if exploiting “starving artists” advance “the progress of science and the useful arts”, so be it. What’s the difference? The “Intellectual Property” beast is still ugly, no matter what angle you look at it. The “advancing of the progress of science and the useful arts” is still the goal, right? Society must have their stupid Mickey Mouse cartoons, eh? They use us, we use them, and the ends justify the means, and all that, that is still the premise, right?

One may say allowing the “starving artists” to be hurt is hurting “the advancing of the progress of science and the useful arts” but it seems Disney is not hurting. We still have our stupid Mickey Mouse cartoons, and all is well, eh? The “starving artists” can get off from their pedestal and join us. They are not special.

The society, which this copyright system purport to works for the benefits of, should be the ONLY stakeholders that matter. Not “starving artists”, not copyright holders, not corporations
especially NOT Disney, which I understand we have to thank for 70 years plus lifetime of creator; apparently we must save Mickey Mouse. It is not their rights that are being taken away for the purported goal of “advancing the progress of science and the useful arts”!

We don’t need “starving artists” guilds and copyright landlords and have to pay monoploy rents indefinitely. We are NOT serfs. This is the modern age not feudalism. Time to get rid of this backward “Intellectual Property” classist system that the Baby Boomers and older generations have saddled the rest of us with, and put those highfautin social parasites to more socially productive enterprises!

Hyman Rosen (profile) says:

Bankruptcy is Weird

Some years ago, a company won an auction for spectrum, and promptly went bankrupt. Then, even though they couldn’t pay the government for the rights, they insisted that the government could not just claw those rights back and sell them to someone else. Those rights were now part of the assets of the bankrupt company and needed to go through the bankruptcy process.

I don’t remember the outcome.

nasch (profile) says:


“Ultimately NextWave prevailed in the Supreme Court, 8-1, and was permitted to keep the PCS licenses. NextWave’s bankruptcy protection lasted approximately ten years, during which time the asset value of the licenses had dramatically increased and NextWave was able to repay the original debt and sell their spectrum assets to Verizon Wireless, Cingular (now AT&T) and MetroPCS. They re-emerged as NextWave Wireless with $550M in capital.”


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