Amazon announced Kindle Worlds yesterday, a digital publishing platform that enables fan fiction authors to publish under official licenses and receive royalties. The current deal is limited to “Gossip Girl,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Vampire Diaries” from Warner Bros. Television Group’s Alloy Entertainment, but Amazon promises licenses for more Worlds in the future. Stories will be made available via Amazon.com, Kindle devices, iOS, Android and Kindle Free Reading apps.
“New stories inspired by books, shows, movies, comics, music and games people love,” reads the tagline of the Kindle Worlds page on Amazon. “The Kindle Worlds Self-Service Submission Platform will launch soon and enable you to submit your original works for publication. Can’t wait to start writing? Learn more on our Kindle Worlds for Authors page.”
“On the surface, it seems like a sweet deal,” reports Wired. “After years of conflict over the copyright issues and ethical conundrums of non-licensed works, fan writers finally have an official OK to not only write, but possibly profit from their work.”
However, the article suggests there may be a catch: “Author John Scalzi was quick to voice concerns about the publishing agreement and the program’s potential impact on professional writers working in the media tie-in market. Wired spoke with attorney Jeff Trexler, who expressed similar concerns, pointing to a clause in Amazon’s contact that grants Amazon and the licensor rights to the text of the stories and any original elements they might contain.”
“In short, if your fan fiction includes new elements that catch on with the general public, it’s likely that you’ll not be able to profit from them outside of the stories that you write,” said Trexler. “For example, Time Warner could launch a movie series based on a character you created and not owe you a dime. While the terms state that you retain the copyright, you also give Amazon an exclusive license to your original work and Amazon in turn licenses your work to Time Warner in a license that provides nothing for you.”
Betsy Rosenblatt, professor at Whittier Law School and chair of the legal committee of the Organization for Transformative Works, said the non-profit is pleased that Amazon is showing interest in fan fiction, but she also has reservations regarding rights in addition to content restrictions.
“Amazon’s list of content guidelines nix pornography and crossovers, as well as some more nebulous and subjective qualities like ‘offensive content’ and ‘poor customer experience,'” explains Wired. “To Rosenblatt, those restrictions underline the importance of unrestricted fan platforms, like OTW’s Archive of Our Own, which ‘allow fans to express the full range of their creativity and appreciate the creativity of other fans through fair use.'”
The article suggests that Kindle Worlds may attract fan writers interested in working under an official license with a chance for earning royalties, but some may be turned off by the “limited licenses, draconian content guidelines, and dubious contracts.”