Amazon’s recent announcement of the launch of Kindle Worlds has generated a lot of buzz, much of it hyperbolic verging on the eschatological, which is par for the course for Amazon.
My understanding of the program, which I will admit is not informed by legal counsel, is that Amazon has acquired permission to publish fiction that uses worlds and characters from existing properties–television shows at the moment, but indications are that they intend to expand the scope of the program.
Authors are invited to submit work to Amazon, which then may publish the works on Kindle for pay. Authors receive a 35% royalty, the owners of the copyrighted work on which the new material is based receive an unspecified royalty, and Amazon takes the rest.
Amazon acts as the publisher of these works, which means that they have control over the rights for the life of the copyright. This clause has raised some red flags in the writer’s community, however, given that the works are being published as part of a shared universe with many contributors, I see that as the best way to avoid messy copyright battles down the road. New characters and places and such also become the intellectual property of Amazon, again in a shared universe setting, I don’t see how it could be otherwise.
If Author A introduces a character and then Author B uses that character, and Author A decides that she doesn’t like Author B’s interpretation of the character… yeah that could get ugly. I see these provisions less as a “rights grab” and more of a peacekeeping move. It’s Amazon’s sandbox, and if you want to play in it, you play by their rules.
I have never had much of an interest in fan fiction, mostly because, as a writer, world building is my favorite part. I don’t want to play with someone else’s toys, I want to build my own. For The Book Of Lost Doors world I set out to build an entire mythology from scratch (granted, I did draw inspiration from other writers for specific elements, but I wanted a world that was all mine.)
So I don’t write fan fiction, and mostly I don’t read it. Would I open my own world to authors? It depends. In a very real sense that is exactly what I have been doing with The Fauxpocalypse Project. I designed that world to be open from the beginning.
On the other, I probably wouldn’t do that with James and Catskinner, at least not yet. There is a lot going on in that world that I haven’t revealed to my readers. To be honest, there are a number of things that James believes about his world that aren’t actually true. So I would either have to publish a bible that contains spoilers for later books, or spend a lot of time telling other authors, “No, you can’t do that,” which would be frustrating for both of us.
So, how about the rest of you? What are your thoughts on opening up your fictional worlds for other authors to explore? I assume that the original copyright holder would retain at least a veto power over other works (suppose, for example, that the Harry Potter works were added to the program and some writer decided to reveal that Professor McGonagall was actually Lily Potter in disguise and had faked her own death and had been hiding in plain sight all these years–I’m thinking Rowling would nix that.)
Just as thought exercise, suppose that you were asked by Amazon to allow your book or book series to be added to Kindle Worlds? Forget about the money for a moment (me, saying forget about the money? Okay, you can pick yourself off the floor now) and just consider how you would feel about other writers telling your characters what to do. Does the idea intrigue or frighten you? How much control over other works would you need to feel comfortable? Are there any particular rules that you would insist other writers follow?