First, Disney. According to Cory Doctorow, Disney acquired publishing rights to a number of Alan Dean Foster’s novels when they acquired Lucasfilm and Fox. They have not paid Foster any royalties since they became the publisher, nor provided him with royalty statements. The reason? They acquired publication rights when they bought the other companies’ assets, but not their debts — so basically they’re not legally obligated to pay him. They’re also refusing to negotiate or discuss things unless Foster signs a non-disclosure agreement first. Which sounds like a ginormous red flag — NDAs are often used as part of a settlement agreement, but not as a precondition for negotiating.
SFWA is on this, understandably. If Disney can get away with this there’s nothing to stop other corporations that buy up publishers from doing the same. Or one publisher under an umbrella corporation could sell the rights to another publishing company in the same organization. Keep in mind, they’re not washing their hands of what Lucasfilm owed Foster: Disney is selling copies of the books he wrote so there’s no excuse I can imagine that makes it legal.
From Disney’s perspective I would guess this looks like a no-lose move. If they win, or if Foster just gives up, they keep the royalties. There’s no court ruling to stop them from trying again. If the case goes to court and runs another five years, it will be a great deal of sweat and effort for Foster but none at all for Disney executives; they’ve got lawyers for that. And if they lose, well, it’s unlikely whatever court costs and damages they pay will hurt their bottom line much. Disney’s FY 2018 report says they spent $38 million settling litigation; another million wouldn’t be much of a problem.
Which is the thing about America today: if you’re rich and you don’t want to follow the law, the system can’t do much to stop or deter you. Disney Co. is very rich. Small wonder that aggressively as they protect their intellectual property, they keep getting accused of ignoring it when it’s inconvenient.
Then there are the allegations against Audible, Amazon’s audiobook company (I should add that I believe both sets of allegations). As detailed at File 770, writers receive only 40 percent of the sale price even though they pay for recording their books, which isn’t cheap. Now it turns out that Audible has launched an exchange program where you can trade in one audiobook for another, even if you liked the recording and listened all the way through (there’s a “return” button at the end). You can make the exchange up to a year after purchase. Audible then reduces the authors’ sales: you sell 10 books, three readers return them, you get payment for seven. It’s not obvious on the sales reports (my publisher McFarland’s sales reports make returns crystal clear). Nor did writers learn about this deal or get an option to opt out — oh, and even when Amazon changes the rules, writers can’t pull their books for seven years after they launch.
I presume this works out well for Audible: they make money off reader memberships and I’m sure turning themselves into a de facto library makes membership that much more attractive. Not at all well for writers.
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