Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Who Owns the World? A reaction to Kindle Worlds

As you probably know by now, Amazon has announced that they will be launching a new Kindle Direct program called Kindle Worlds.  Fan-fic authors can submit their work in one of the official licensed worlds and if accepted will find their work for sale on  Along the way, Amazon gets all kinds of benefits and perks and young fledgling authors who have been writing fan-fic for fun or for practice can now add "for profit" to their reasons for doing so.

John Scalzi, who himself is brilliant in all things writer-advocacy, has a great post up where he dissects the actual agreement.  I'm going to spring board off of that myself here.

Spring boarding off of this there is one fundamental underlying question:  Who owns a world?

This is really the root of the entire conversation.  Can GRR Martin actually stop people from writing and distributing fan-fiction, regardless of whether or not it's for profit?  Generally fan fiction is given away on sites like, and other websites.  Since it's mostly free (the owners of the sites, I assume make money on the advertising), it's considered some form of Fair Use and thus no one makes too big of a stink.

Plus, who wants to alienate fans by saying "No no no!  Mineminemine!"?  Nothing can kill a fandom like acting like a jerk to the fans themselves.  For more on that just look at the reaction to an ending the fans did not like to the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris.

And she wasn't even mean to people; she was just writing the ending she felt best fit.

But in the agreement that Amazon has put out there, the full ownership of the work, including the Fan Fiction reverts to the original right holder, including the legal right to use anything in submitted work in later works.  So if you write a great big of Fan Fiction for Vampire Diaries, and they like it enough to make it into an episode, you get the honor of saying "I wrote that" but without the honor of seeing your name on the credits as "story by."

As I understand it now, if I publish that same story on my own site, and then I see an episode that is clearly based on it, I can make the case that it was ~my~ story and thus I'm entitled to some compensation.  In the grand scheme of things there's a line between "Just put his name in the credits  and "spend the money to out-lawyer him into oblivion".

The thing is that if the world is not a property that someone can "own", then really the original holders and authors, say Rowlings and the Harry Potter, have no control over what is done with it, up to and including the production of entire works of fiction, for profit, using that world.  Fan Fiction no longer remains only for free sharing.

On the other hand, if someone can own a world, then there is nothing to stop them from legally shutting down every Fan Fic site that references it.  You want to write a story about a Quidditch match?  Make up your own game.

Now in the past I've suggested that Fan Fiction has a good purpose.  It's like being a cover band and learning the ropes of pacing, character, and plot by using a world that is already established and one that comes with a group of fans willing to suffer through your story while you massage it.  It also allows you to enjoy the fandom and contribute to it in your own way.

I fear for the end of Fan Fiction which I believe that this Kindle Worlds program could usher in.  Once there is a mechanism for establishing and codifying official Fan Fiction, then the un-licensed represents competition (why pay for it on Amazon when you can get it for free on Wattpad?)  And it's only logical to shut that down.

Sadly I also believe that given the work required to create a solid, consistent world, I'm loathe to say that it becomes public domain when the first novel hits the shelf.  Just to write the first Chapter of the Queen's Fury novel, I had to dedicate triple the time to world building before I even got to start on the second sentence of the novel itself.

Is the truth in the middle somewhere?  Is there a place that allows for Fan Fiction for free and for profit?

I hope so but my experience with all things Amazon and "Big Corporate" says otherwise....

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