Well holy shit.
I was all settled in for a nice, productive Wednesday, and then Amazon blew up the internet.
People love stories. Sometimes, people don’t want stories to end. Sometimes they want them to end differently. Sometimes they want Draco in leather pants, whipping Harry with a ten inch wand of diamond hard wood. And for these people, fan fiction provides an outlet. It gives people who love a character or a story the chance to contribute their own thoughts to the universe, to provide commentary, an alternate world, or just plain old smut.
It’s flattering when someone loves your stories and characters enough to keep them going. It’s awesome when someone is so caught up in your work that they need to explore what might have been. It’s really cool when a fan makes a little part of your world a little part of theirs.
Fan fiction has always kind of existed in a legal gray world. It isn’t, technically, legal, because authors hold the copyrights to the worlds and characters they create, and without their explicit permission, you aren’t allowed to create a derivative work. Most authors, though, agree to just look the other way. Others, myself included, explicitly allow fanfiction in their copyright statements, usually with a clause disallowing commercial sale.
Amazon, as they are wont to do, looked at the status quo, then blithely said “fuck that noise.”
Introducing Kindle Worlds, a sister program to Kindle Direct Publishing, that will allow you to write and sell your fan fiction. Amazon has acquired the rights to several Worlds from Alloy Entertainment, including The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, and Pretty Little Liars.
So this is awesome, right? You get to write your fan fiction and make money from it?
Well, not so fast. There’s a really big GOTCHA in the Terms of Service:
- Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.
- Kindle Worlds is a creative community where Worlds grow with each new story. You will own the copyright to the original, copyrightable elements (such as characters, scenes, and events) that you create and include in your work, and the World Licensor will retain the copyright to all the original elements of the World. When you submit your story in a World, you are granting Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all the original elements you include in that story. This means that your story and all the new elements must stay within the applicable World. We will allow Kindle Worlds authors to build on each other’s ideas and elements. 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.
Let’s unpack this:
“Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.” What this means is that when you publish a story on Kindle Worlds, you’re giving Amazon the right to do whatever they want with your story, forever. They can sell it electronically, digitally, carve it into a rock, or give it away. It’s up to them, and you have no say. Ever.
“You will own the copyright to the original, copyrightable elements (such as characters, scenes, and events) that you create and include in your work, and the World Licensor will retain the copyright to all the original elements of the World.” Awesome! Exactly the kind of license I would want. Except …
“When you submit your story in a World, you are granting Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all the original elements you include in that story.” Want to publish your fan fiction on FanFiction.net? Tough. Amazon is the only entity legally allowed to publish your material. And if they decide that they want to stop publishing your material? Sucks for you. You have no other outlet.
“This means that your story and all the new elements must stay within the applicable World.” This is a huge, flashing warning sign, a big neon Danger, Will Robinson! When you submit a story to Kindle Worlds, you give Amazon all of the rights to your new ideas, even ideas that came solely from your head. Come up with a concept for an awesome new character who just happens to interact with a Salvatore Brother? You can never use that character anywhere except within a Kindle Worlds story.
“We will allow Kindle Worlds authors to build on each other’s ideas and elements.” This means that people get to write fan fiction about your fan fiction. Kindle Worlds is essentially a viral license. I don’t exactly have a problem with that. It would be cool if there was a way to be compensated when another author uses some or your original ideas, but I honestly don’t know how that would even be possible.
“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.” One of the big issues authors have traditionally had with fan fiction is the possibility that a fan fiction writer would claim the original author stole the fan’s ideas and incorporated them into their work. This is why even authors who explicitly allow fan fiction almost never read fan fiction. This sentence does away with that fear entirely. If you submit a story to Kindle Worlds, the original creators can use it however they want. Just think! The next season of Vampire Diaries could be based on your story! Except you won’t be paid for it.
This is basically a huge, huge rights grab, worse than most contracts I’ve seen come out of traditional publishing. I’m very close to saying that it’s a deal breaker entirely. Except …
Fan fiction authors never really had the rights to their work in the first place. They have no legal right to create their own stories using someone else’s characters and worlds, and they certainly have no right to sell it. Fan fiction authors were never going to profit from their works, and now they can. The rights Kindle Worlds authors are giving away are rights they never really had.
The exception is the license to new concepts developed within a Kindle Worlds story. That is uniquely the author’s own, and submitting to Kindle Worlds locks it up forever. Stories are an author’s lifeblood, and you should never give that kind of control over your ideas to someone else. Fifty Shades of Gray would have never happened under Kindle Worlds, because Amazon would own all of the rights to that story, not EL James. She wouldn’t have been allowed to change the character names, flush out the story, and publish on her own. Amazon would have owned that work, not her.
But if you aren’t creating a lot of new material, or at least material that you would want to use somewhere else? Then Kindle Worlds could be a fun experiment.
Oh, and no porn, so this is basically dead on arrival anyway.