There’s been a lot of talk about Kindle Worlds lately, and the OTW has received some questions about its legal implications. The OTW has long maintained that noncommercial fan fiction is fair use, and Amazon’s new program does not change that in any way. It also doesn’t change anything about the AO3’s continued mission to provide a permanent platform for noncommercial fan fiction. (And don’t forget, works on the AO3 are readable on the Kindle and other handheld platforms.)
So should fan writers put their works on Kindle Worlds? That is, of course, up to you. We believe that every author should make up their own mind about whether they want to publish their work on a particular platform. However, we also believe that every person should have a full understanding of the terms they are agreeing to by doing so. We’ve reviewed the information Amazon has made available to date, and have tried to explain the practical implications in this post.
In the professional publishing world, the terms of the contracts (agreements) between authors and publishers are heavily negotiated by the authors’ agents. It appears that Amazon expects to use a “one size fits all” contract for Kindle Worlds. They haven’t yet made that full contract available for potential submitters to read. But here are some terms of the Kindle Worlds contract that are mentioned on their page of which you should be aware:
- “Amazon Publishing will pay royalties to the rights holder for the World (we call them World Licensors) and to you.”
This means that whoever holds the copyright to the underlying work will be making money off your stories, as well. How much? We don’t know.
- “Your standard royalty rate for works of at least 10,000 words will be 35% of net revenue.”
The key phrase to be aware of here is “net revenue.” This means that your royalty will not be calculated on the price of the book (so, for a $1 book, 35 cents a copy), but rather on whatever’s left after all of Amazon’s costs, which are undefined, are accounted for. Depending on how aggressively Amazon defines its costs—and Hollywood, for example, is famous for calculating them very aggressively—that could mean you get little to nothing.
- “Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.”
This appears to be intended to be an exclusive license on all forms of the story.
What does “exclusive license” mean in this context? It means that no one else can make any other use of the story—including, quite possibly, you yourself. For that reason, it likely means that Amazon wouldn’t let you include your story in both Kindle Worlds and a fandom site.
Why does “all rights” matter? Well, what if Amazon likes the story and wants to commission a graphic novel adaptation of it? This language implies that they can do so…without any additional payments to you.
Also, “for the term of copyright” means that Amazon claims the right to your work until many years after you’ve died–so for all practical purposes, forever. (Although you may, because of U.S. copyright law, be able to terminate this agreement after 35 years, but even that is a long time.) If, in the end, you decide you don’t like the deal you’re getting from Amazon, you may well not be able to withdraw your stories from Kindle Worlds, even if you are willing to give up any further royalty payments.
- “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 also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.”
So, not just Amazon, but the copyright holder to the underlying work, as well, has rights to what you create. Write the story that the underlying copyright holder wants to use as the basis for the summer blockbuster version of the story? You’ve donated it.
Also, “your story and all the new elements must stay within the applicable World” implies that, if you happen to create a popular OC or other idea, you can’t use it in other stories not published with Kindle Worlds.
Finally, there are a number of contract terms that are important in publishing but not yet discussed on the Kindle Worlds page. For instance, editorial control—Amazon has provided “Content Guidelines” for works, but there’s a lot about them that’s unclear. They include prohibitions on crossovers, on “offensive content,” and on “offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.” It’s hard to know exactly what these mean, and whose standards will apply. We cannot predict how consistently these restrictions will be enforced or how fan-friendly the enforcement process will be. It’s also not clear whether Amazon will claim the right to do anything more than reject a work for failing to meet those guidelines (like edit it against your will). And the terms may change depending on what happens next and whether the program expands. There is also mention of a Cover Creator, but no mention of whether it will cost you anything to use it, or whether you will have permission to use images from the show in question. Presumably, more of these will become clear when Amazon publishes the actual contract.
As we said at the beginning, whether you want to participate in Kindle Worlds is up to you. If it meets your needs, great! We hope this post has helped you make up your mind in an informed fashion. Regardless, the OTW will continue to provide a platform and advocacy for noncommercial fanfiction.