Authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman Sue Dungeons & Dragons Publisher Wizards of the Coast for Breach of Contract

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18 Responses

  1. JS
    Ignored
    says:

    Seems like a bad year for authors. Alan Dean Foster is suing Disney, because they abruptly stopped paying him royalties despite continuing to publish and sell the Star Wars books he wrote.

    Apparently Disney has been unwilling to negotiate without an NDA first, but per Foster their basic stance is “When we bought LucasArts, we got only the assets and not the liabilities”.

    Which, if you think a few minutes, is an incredibly insane claim to make. And one reason the SWFA is all-in on defending Foster legally.

    No author, writer, actor, script-writer, or anyone who lives off royalties or residuals or a percentage of sales can tolerate a legal paradigm in which their publisher/etc can be bought wholesale, yet somehow all their contractual obligations drop to the wayside leaving the purchaser with just the assets.

    it’s also a pretty insane argument by Disney, so I don’t know what their lawyers are smoking — perhaps it was a low-level decision by people who thought a 70ish retired author could afford, or even life through, a prolonged court fight.

    I’d expect Disney to quickly settle, since there is no doubt SWFA would die on this particular hill, no matter the time or expense. (Although I suspect they could find a number of lawyers willing to work cheaply or for free on this one.)Report

    • Jaybird in reply to JS
      Ignored
      says:

      I imagine that they’ll attempt to hold out until Foster dies and then move for dismissal based on standing.Report

      • JS in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        His estate would still have those rights, and as noted SWFA will die on this hill. They can’t let this precedent stand, or anyone willing to create a shell company and shuffle their assets through would suddenly shed every obligation of payment while keeping the rights to publish.

        I suspect it will be settled quietly, as it really does sound like a moron decided an elderly retiree could be shafted without being able to do anything about it.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to JS
      Ignored
      says:

      “Which, if you think a few minutes, is an incredibly insane claim to make. ”

      Not…necessarily? If Disney purchased Lucasfilm’s assets but not Lucasfilm-the-corporate-entity, they can claim that it was still Lucasfilm’s responsibility to pay Foster the royalties; and that if Lucasfilm closed without executing the contract-termination provisions, then that’s not Disney’s responsibility to sort out.

      I don’t know the details, but there is a path to where this works out legally. (This is not to suggest that Disney or Lucasfilm et al are the good guys here and shouldn’t be criticized.)Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to DensityDuck
        Ignored
        says:

        The royalties are presumably per copy, and Disney is determining how many copies to print and sell, so it would be weird as hell for Lucasfilm to be on the hook for royalties that they can’t calculate or control.

        But IANAL,Report

        • JS in reply to Mike Schilling
          Ignored
          says:

          Especially since, you know, LucasArts could be bankrupt. Dissolved.

          Leaving Disney free to print books royalty free, which seems a massive breach of the original contract, which is why when you purchase things that have contractual obligations you are ALSO purchasing the obligations.Report

      • JS in reply to DensityDuck
        Ignored
        says:

        Except what’s generating the income is the printing and selling of new books, which is being done by Disney.

        Foster is owed a certain amount per sold copy. Disney bought the copyrights, they can’t leave the matter of payment to LucasArts. The rights to publish those books are intrinsically bound to the contractual rights of the author.

        I mean think about that — all you’d need to do is transfer all your material to a shell, then buy out the shell, leaving it with all the obligations — and you’d void any contractual agreement for payment.

        “Oh, you contracted with Disney Publisher June 2021, which sold it’s entire catalog to Disney on July 1, but kept all obligations to it’s authors. Therefore, you need to sue Disney Publisher June 2021 for your royalties, but sadly they are bankrupt.”

        That would leave a giant hole in contract law that would basically void ANY contract if the company was willing to simply throw away a shell to purchase the “rights” and leave the “obligations” behind. How could anyone contract with anyone on any terms but “cash up front”?Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to JS
          Ignored
          says:

          the rights to publish those books are intrinsically bound

          Nice one.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to JS
          Ignored
          says:

          “what’s generating the income is the printing and selling of new books, which is being done by Disney.”

          Is it? From what Michael Cain said below (and I’ve confirmed) it’s Bertelsmann that’s doing the publishing and selling. Disney’s income is from the licensing fees they’re charging Bertelsmann for the use of the Star Wars trademarks.

          The whole thing is starting to seem less about Disney Being Bastards and more about Foster fighting with Bertelsmann, and Foster’s claiming that it’s Disney Being Bastards because that’s a lot bigger draw than “author has dispute with publisher over royalty payments”.Report

          • DensityDuck in reply to DensityDuck
            Ignored
            says:

            Although there does seem to be some question of A) which books are actually being disputed and B) who the actual rightsholder of those books is. The SFWA article about this has discussion in the comments suggesting that “[i]t took SFWA’s involvement to even find out who the rightsholder was” which I kinda think means maybe Disney thinks it isn’t them…Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to DensityDuck
        Ignored
        says:

        After wasting an afternoon grinding through stuff…

        Disney bought Lucasfilm the entity (an LLC at the time the deal was completed). Disney’s argument right now does appear to be that under the terms of all the agreements signed between various companies — not all part of Disney — they own the rights to the franchise(s) but not the obligation to pay Foster for his previous work. I suspect they will eventually hang that on Del Rey the publisher, who appears at first glance to be an intermediary who did the actual licensing and then hired the (many) authors who have written Star Wars novels.

        Del Rey is currently an imprint under Penguin Random House, who is owned by the German conglomerate Bertelsmann. I have read other authors saying bad things about Bertelsmann.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Michael Cain
          Ignored
          says:

          A) yes, if Disney bought “Lucasfilm LLC” rather than just “”all the assets of Lucasfilm LLC”, then they’d have also acquired any contractual obligations to pay money to people.

          B) but if Foster’s contract is with Del Rey and he was just using the “Star Wars” trademarks under license then yeah, it’s not Disney’s obligation to pay him, it’s Del Rey(-slash-Penguin-slash-Bertelsmann)’s obligation, and Foster needs to take it up with them.Report

          • Michael Cain in reply to DensityDuck
            Ignored
            says:

            Further…

            B) Some of the later books were by contract with Del Rey, who seems to be paying appropriate royalties for those.

            A) According to the SFWA’s legal counsel, Foster’s early contracts firmly tie the obligation to pay him to the right to publish and include standard “the successors and assigns” boilerplate. The SFWA has footed the bill to do the (apparently extensive) work to establish who holds the rights to publish, and it’s Disney. Disney doesn’t seem to dispute that they hold that right, only that the original contract terms no longer apply for some reason they will only reveal under NDA (or in court, obviously).

            I worked for years for giant corporations with large contingents of salaried attorneys. There’s no question that they can be dick-ish about things for the simple reason that it costs them very little extra to go to court, and sometimes they win, or get concessions in a settlement.Report

  2. LeeEsq
    Ignored
    says:

    Lawsuits that relate to science fiction and fantasy fandom are always fun to read because the lawyers have to explain a lot to the judges. Linday Ellis’ recent videos on Omega Verse romcom lawsuit had this great moment where she read from the complaint that explained the Omergaverse to the judges and she pointed out the ridiculousness of high paid lawyers having to write about these intensely fannish concepts and federal judges having to read them.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq
      Ignored
      says:

      I’ve read about similarly fun lawsuits as it relates to toys. I think one involved the XMen and whether they were considered human or not. Tariffs were at different rates based on whether a toy was a human or not. So you had lawyers arguing in court whether the XMen were humans or something else, using the comic books as evidence.Report

  3. Ozzzy!
    Ignored
    says:

    The Death Gate Cycle was better than their Dragonlance trilogies IMO, though the Twins one was quite good.

    Also, Raistlin was my first character’s name in Ultima Online – he wore red robes and was pretty weak, mostly because I was terrible at that game.Report

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