A major complaint of authors and musicians is that not only are they not paid royalties that are due on their work, but that it can be almost impossible to find out from their publishing companies exactly what royalties are owed. This is something I’ve run across in my own legal work, with frustrated clients who see that their work is being sold and yet receive nothing from their publisher. There are extreme stories of authors and musicians dying in poverty while their work sells millions of copies.
Last November, author Alan Dean Foster, a name well-known among Star Wars and Alien enthusiasts, wrote an open letter complaining that he had not received any royalties from Disney since its purchase of the properties from Lucasfilm in 2012. This past April, an activist group made up of multiple organizations was formed, calling themselves the #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force. Their goal was to help authors determine what, if any, royalties they were owed by Disney.
One of the more disturbing arguments made by representatives from Disney regarding the lack of royalties was that when they purchased the intellectual property, they had no obligation to pay royalties as the original contract was a personal service contract that included an obligation to pay royalties, and Disney’s purchase did not include a transfer of that obligation to pay. Under that logic, it would appear that all Disney would have to do is purchase original intellectual property from an author using one company and then sell it to another Disney owned company in order to avoid paying royalties.
The bigger issue here is the difficulty authors have in getting any sort of information regarding the royalties they are due. Disney is not alone in hiding this information, although since the formation of the Task Force is appears that more information has been forthcoming. But it shouldn’t have to take a coalition of organizations coming together to pressure companies like this to fulfill their contractual obligations.