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.