Today Amazon announced the newest expansion on the self-publishing-on-the-Kindle landscape - Kindle Worlds
. In a nutshell, Kindle Worlds will allow fanfiction authors to publish their fanfiction on the Kindle, and sell
it. Any sales will pay royalties both to the copyright holder of the original property, and to the fanfic author.
Now, for full disclosure, I have been writing fanfiction as long as I've been writing, which is a damn long time. I am also on staff for the Organization for Transformative Works
, which not only runs one of the most popular fanworks archives
on the web, but is a non-profit which in part deals with the legitimacy of fanworks from a legal standpoint. I'm also an author with properties of my own.
Personally, I'm for fanfiction in a general sense. If anyone ever writes fanfiction or creates fan works about my own properties, I will count that a positive thing. In my opinion, fanfiction does great things for copyright. But this post isn't about that - it's about Kindle Worlds. From the perspective of people involved in the creation of fanworks, it has always been the cardinal rule - Thou Shalt Not Sell Thine Fanfiction, Lest Thou Incur the Wrath of the Author. Kindle Worlds seems poised to change all that.
Based on my reading of the limited information on the Amazon site, there are some big caveats.
Firstly, you can only publish fanfiction in the fandoms that are allowed - presumably Amazon will need to negotiate with each copyright holder for the right to include them in the program. I think that's really key. If someone is going to profit by their fanfiction, it should be with the blessing of the one who created the world. I think that this could create a wonderful symbiotic relationship, even more than fanfiction already does, without forcing any copyright holders into a situation where they feel threatened by the - shall we say - legitimized fanfiction.
Secondly, they won't allow any porn, offensive material, bad fanfiction, crossovers, or "illegal or infringing content". Setting aside the last one, it makes me wonder if there will actually be any fanfiction that qualifies for the program. Most importantly, they really don't say what's illegal or infringing. Isn't all fanfiction sort of illegal and infringing at this point? No one really knows, which has always been the problem.
I truly hope there will be some really clear guidelines about that, or I seriously doubt this will take off. Fanfiction authors are already inclined to batten down the hatches at any hint that their hobby is being noticed by the mainstream world at large. To violate the cardinal rule and risk being sued is something I think few people will be willing to do, unless they can trust that the risk is minimal enough to be worth it.
As a final point, a Forbes
article on the announcement has a quote in there saying that the contract will give Amazon full rights to the fanfic, and the writer will not retain any publication rights over the work. According to John Scalzi (President of SFWA and all around intelligent dude), this clause makes this into a "Work for Hire" sort of contract where you are literally giving your fanfic away in return for royalties on the sale, for the full term
of copyright - which would be your life plus 75 years I do believe (thanks, Disney).
This is a huge deal, and one I hope they remove from the final contract. I didn't see any hint of that on the Amazon site so far, but Amazon is only giving generalized information at the moment.
I don't write in any of the fandoms that will be offered upon original launch, and I'm also concerned about Amazon having the right to republish and profit from any fanfic I did publish in the program if I chose to do so, so at this point I'm very much in "wait and see" mode. Other people have tried to profit off of fanfiction in the past, and it has always met with an extreme negative backlash. But none of those people have been Amazon, so we'll see where this goes.