Amazon put out a press release today unveiling Kindle Worlds.
Today, Amazon Publishing announces Kindle Worlds, the first commercial publishing platform that will enable any writer to create fan fiction based on a range of original stories and characters and earn royalties for doing so. […] Kindle Worlds will allow any writer to publish authorized stories inspired by these popular Worlds and make them available for readers to purchase in the Kindle Store.
Basically, Amazon gets licensing rights to the ‘world’, such as Vampire Diaries, so it can publish fan fiction under that license (so far only Warner Brother’s owned Alloy Entertainment is signed up, they are refered to as the World Licensor). Kindle Worlds can only publish works written for that license and no crossovers are allowed. People buy your stuff, then you get royalties off of it just as if it was an original work.
Sounds great, but there is a ton of catches that I think fans should really take note of.
In June, […] the Kindle Worlds self-service submission platform, where any writer can submit completed work, will also open.
It’s submission based, it’s not like FanFiction.net or Archive of Our Own or any other world specific areas were you post for all to see. Your fan fiction will have to be submitted and if it’s an example of “a poor customer experience” then it won’t make it. Most fan fiction would fall under poor customer experience because, let’s be honest, this is how Fan Fiction breaks down when you go looking for it.
- 60% – Straight out crap.
- 20% – Serviceable. Has problems but it’s good enough to overlook them.
- 15.5% – Good. Generally written well, perhaps a little basic or straight forward.
- 4% – Excellent. The kind of stuff that is layered and well written.
- 0.5% – Stuff worth paying for it’s just that darn good.
And I’ll be the first to say that most of my stuff falls under Good, a couple under Excellent, and nothing I’ve written I think anyone should pay money for.
Then we have to acknowledge the whole reason fan fiction exists. Dunc over at ClubJade says it best:
Part of the point of fanfic, to my mind, is the complete lack of tether. It rarely pays off, but when it does, those are the moments that make the whole enterprise worth it.
Having to go through submissions and following guidelines kinda kills the whole point of fan fiction. We write fan fiction because we want to see things that either haven’t, or won’t ever, happen in the world we’re writing. If that means going out on the deep end, then so be it. Sure, there is plenty of good fan fic that will fit under the submission’s guidelines but you’re still only looking at a small, very small, portion of what fan fiction has to offer (and I’m not talking about the PWP (porn without plot)).
Also, the cardinal rule of Fan Fiction can be seen at the top of most all fan fictions: “I do not own [Insert Fandom].” (I have it on the right hand nav-bar of this site.) Just because one company says “go ahead and play in our sandbox” doesn’t mean you have any more right to the source content. In fact, it says so itself: “the World Licensor will retain the copyright to all the original elements of the World.”
This is why all fan fiction is free to browse on several sites. And people have a bad habit of not paying for stuff when they can get it free, legally no less. And I know we’ve all said to authors of our favorite stories “oh, I’d buy this if I could” but how many of us really would if it came down to it? Probably the same amount of people who actually buy their friend’s original book when they put it up on something like Create Space.
All of this kinda splitting hairs… the real alarm bell is this:
We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you. [source]
Yeah, let’s say they sign Marvel in on this and I put up my fan fiction series where I make Sentinel an A.I. program instead of a robot. They read it, they like it, they use it in their comics. That’s the end of it. All I get is a little footnote in Wiki if I’m lucky.
Granted, being that Fan Fiction is not really copyrighted because the original Creator keeps their original copyright, this stuff could happen anyway (Gambit’s middle name for example), but at least if it happened then there could be some legal recourse depending on exactly what went down. Like my original characters for Mara Jade’s parents, they are mine, not theirs. This is why it’s a steadfast rule that authors and executives do not read fan fiction, they do not want to be accused of stealing someone’s idea.
Kindle Worlds absolutely circumvents that. In fact, it’s allowing the World Licensor access to loads of new content and stories without them having to actually pay authors for their hard work. The money only comes from other fans. So if you only get one person to buy your story, but the World Licensor love the idea/character and use it, they can make millions off of it and you only get those few sales. Granted, a character you made becoming famous might kick up sales… right until someone posts and it ends up free file shared…
To make matters worse, there is another rather blaring alarm bell:
Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright. [source]
I’m just going to quote John Scalzi cause he’s said best.
Which is to say, once Amazon has it, they have the right to do anything they want with it, including possibly using it in anthologies or selling it other languages, etc, without paying the author anything else for it, ever. Again, an excellent deal for Amazon; a less than excellent deal for the actual writer.
Note that on its page Amazon makes a show of saying that the writer owns the copyright on the original things that are copyrightable, but inasmuch as Amazon also acquires all rights for the length of the copyright and Alloy is given the right to exploit the new elements without further compensation, this show about you keeping your copyright appears to be just that: show.
So, yeah, you do all the hard work and get a little money out of it while Amazon and the World licensor laugh it up.
It also brings up a very important legal question. When does your original work fall into that copyright? In the words of a post on tumblr I wish I could find again to link to… “there is nothing worse than a poorly written fan fiction with a really great plot”.
So let’s say my writing isn’t up to spec for Kindle Worlds but they love the idea of the A.I. Sentinel… if they don’t publish my fiction, can they still keep the idea?
I don’t know… there is nothing in the fine print that says either way.
That alone is worrisome enough.
Lastly, what about plagiarism between Fan Fictions? Fan Fiction writers inside of fandoms can and will borrow from each other. Sometimes an idea is so great that one person reads it in a Fan Fiction, thinks it’s actually canon that they missed, and puts it in their story. I’m guilty of that because the idea that Tycho Celchu was talking to his fiance when Alderaan was destroyed was a beautiful idea and I honestly thought it was canon. When I asked the writer, they also had thought it was canon then realized it wasn’t and unfortunately I was never able to trace back to the person with the original idea.
But at least in Fan Fiction, it’s free and we can call each other out on it without needing legal recourse. Now that we start making money off of the ideas? Oh boy…
So let’s say I publish a story with the event I just mentioned and it gets picked up for use by Lucasfilm. Granted, I’m still not going to get anything out of it but if the original person who came up with it read it in the canon they would probably not be too happy to find out that no only was their idea taken but they don’t even get credit for it. Would they have any legal recourse because they are the original creators of that unique idea?
Again, a nice big gray area there.
I’m not going to lie, the idea of getting paid for fan fiction is very tempting… and somewhat validating. After all, fan artists can make money off their work (to an extent) so why shouldn’t we? But the way it’s been set up here by Amazon isn’t the way to go. It’s got too many holes, way to dodgy, and really is set up to make the writers feel used and likely abused.
Maybe once it’s fully launched they will be able to work out these details and make something that is more workable to the uniqueness that is fan fiction… but considering the mega-giant corporation that is spear-heading this… I’m not holding my breath.