Alan Dean Foster was in his late 20s when George Lucas, standing near a model of the Millennium Falcon in a warehouse in Southern California, met him to discuss writing the novel adaptation of his forthcoming movie “Star Wars.”
The original contract called for an upfront payment of $7,500, until Mr. Lucas tossed Mr. Foster a 0.5% royalty on sales that Mr. Foster, now 74 years old, says added up to several times that initial payment. They arrived several times a year as the original 1977 blockbuster set box-office records and the novelization he wrote went on to sell more than one million copies.
Then, in 2012, Walt Disney Co. bought Lucasfilm Ltd.—and the royalty checks stopped.
Now, Mr. Foster and other authors from Disney -purchased franchises are in a heated dispute with Hollywood’s biggest empire, which they say refuses to pay royalties on book contracts it absorbed in the $4 billion Lucasfilm deal and other acquisitions. The amount of money at stake is minuscule to a company of Disney’s size but important to the writers seeking it. While Disney has mined Lucasfilm for new movies that have collectively grossed nearly $6 billion at the world-wide box office, these writers say the company has delayed dealing with their complaints and stiffed them on checks that rarely total a few thousand bucks apiece.
Since Mr. Foster’s dispute was taken public by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America association, other authors of books tied to projects from Indiana Jones to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” have come forward with similar stories of royalty checks that stopped after Disney acquired the properties. In each case, Disney threatens to alienate an obscure but vital tentacle of the franchises, as these novelizations helped build and maintain fan loyalty. Complicating matters: The exact amount of money at stake is unknown, since sales and royalties for the books involved have fluctuated wildly over time.