Yesterday, Amazon announced that it is entering into licensing agreements with rights-holders to offer a service that will allow fanfiction authors to publish and sell their work in Amazon’s Kindle store.
The program, called Kindle Worlds, pays undisclosed royalties to rights-holders (quaintly called World Licensors), and royalties of 20 percent of net (for works of 5,000 to 10,00 words) and 35 percent (for works over 10,000 words). Amazon hasn’t disclosed what their portion of the gross will be. They will set the price for the e-books, between US$0.99 and $3.99 for most works.
The publishing terms are not especially friendly to authors:
- Authors must follow content guidelines set down by the World Licensor (including a no-crossovers rule)
- Authors grant Amazon an exclusive license to “the story and all the original elements you include in that story,” which means they can only be published through Amazon publishing (and currently, only in Kindle format)
- Amazon Publishing gets all rights to your story for the term of copyright
- Amazon gives the World Licensor a license “to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you”
In other words, you technically own the copyright to the bits of your stories that aren’t already owned by the World Licensor, but you can’t do anything with them—like use them in another story you publish elsewhere—ever. While the World Licensor can take those bits and use them in any way they like without your permission or any requirement to pay you. So if you write a story, CW Television Network, for example, can decide to incorporate your OCs and your plot into the next season of Gossip Girl without any credit or compensation to you.
None of this bothers me especially. I’m a free-market kind of gal when it comes to publishing; put your name to a contract at your own risk. While I don’t believe derivative work is necessarily a violation of copyright, and I don’t believe the creators of an original work are automatically entitled to any and all profits from a derivative work, I have no problem with rights-holders essentially promising not to sue the creator of a derivative work in return for a share of the profits.
What worries me is that World Licensors who once tolerated fanworks or even encouraged them as a way to build fan engagement and “brand-loyalty” will decide to try to maximize profits by quashing the competition. Sites that continue to offer free fanfic in fandoms that are licensed through Kindle Worlds could be at increased risk for civil claims–including claims from Amazon, if the world licenses granted by rights-holders are exclusive.
It’s an interesting turn of events that moves the ball forward in legitimizing fanwork (which is not without its drawbacks). But while this may be good news to fanfic authors who are interested in monetizing their hobby and don’t mind the restrictions, it’s not such good news for fanwork creators overall.