unjapanologist: (Default)
[personal profile] unjapanologist

Hi! Sorry about the months of silence, I hope everyone's doing well... Dreamwidth seems quiet these days. More soon about the ten million things I've been busy with. First though, a crosspost of a quick analysis thing I wrote for Fanhackers about Amazon's new great idea. The tone of this post is restrained because Fanhackers is not a private soapbox, but my personal objections to the idea of Amazon trying to revolutionize fanfic distribution are, um, extreme.

 

PaidContent reports that in June this year, Amazon will be launching Kindle Worlds, a legal publishing platform for fanfic. According to Amazon's announcement, Kindle Worlds will start out by allowing fanfic based on Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries.

It's not necessarily bad news that companies are trying to create options for "licensed" fanfic, and I'll leave the in-depth analysis of the legal aspects of this to professionals. Legal issues aside, though, I certainly hope that Kindle Worlds won't become a model for other attempts to legalize fanfic. This concept seems to repeat a lot of fan-unfriendly aspects of previous forays by companies into the weird world of fic monetization. Kindle Worlds would allow fic authors to sell works "without hassle", as PaidContent says, but apparently also without many rights, and within the boundaries of extremely strict content guidelines.

The platform refers to fandoms as "Worlds". Copyright holders can give Amazon Publishing a license to allow fic writers to upload stories about licensed media to Amazon Publishing, which will then offer the stories for sale. Since this is not a self-publishing platform, Amazon Publishing will be setting the prices:

Paidcontent:

The fan fiction authors get a royalty of 35 percent for works of at least 10,000 words, and a royalty of 20 percent on works between 5,000 and 10,000 words.

Amazon's "Kindle Worlds for authors" page:

Amazon Publishing will set the price for Kindle Worlds stories. Most will be priced from $0.99 through $3.99.

Fic authors will get a monthly payout. Amazon will be paying an undisclosed amount of royalties to the copyright holders of the media the fics are based on, and presumably also keep an undisclosed amount of money for itself. In short, while fic writers will get some money, they have zero control over how much they might want to charge or how much of a cut they deserve, and no options to negotiate. Amazon can organize its business the way it pleases, of course. But this "you will take what we offer you or nothing" approach may offer a big clue to how Amazon believes the rights of all parties should be balanced out when fic writers and copyright holders try to share income from fanworks.

An ever-returning problem with "official" fanfic contests and corporate websites is that they tend do have content guidelines that are rather more restrictive than what many fans feel is sensible, and Kindle Worlds is no exception. The copyright holders who license their properties to Amazon to allow fanfic on Kindle Worlds will be deciding which content is allowed:

World Licensors have provided Content Guidelines for each World, and your work must follow these Content Guidelines. We strongly encourage you to read the Content Guidelines before you commit the time and effort to write.

It's not immediately clear if this means that there will be different content guidelines for every fandom on top of the content guidelines that Amazon itself sets. But Amazon's basic content guidelines are as follows:

Pornography: We don't accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.
Offensive Content: We don’t accept offensive content, including but not limited to racial slurs, excessively graphic or violent material, or excessive use of foul language.
Illegal and Infringing Content: We take violations of laws and proprietary rights very seriously. It is the authors' responsibility to ensure that their content doesn't violate laws or copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity, or other rights.
Poor Customer Experience: We don't accept books that provide a poor customer experience. Examples include poorly formatted books and books with misleading titles, cover art, or product descriptions. We reserve the right to determine whether content provides a poor customer experience.
Excessive Use of Brands: We don’t accept the excessive use of brand names or the inclusion of brand names for paid advertising or promotion.
Crossover: No crossovers from other Worlds are permitted, meaning your work may not include elements of any copyright-protected book, movie, or other property outside of the elements of this World.

This is rather incredibly restrictive, but I can't say I'm surprised. In other fanfic contests and corporate fic-hosting endeavors, media companies have also set content guidelines that prohibit sexual content or other hard-to-market things. (Also check out this thesis by Suzanne Scott and this article by Roberta Pearson for more discussion on this.) Last year's MTV-organized Teen Wolf fanfic contest caused some amazement precisely because it wasn't explicitly hostile to slash or porn.

Needless to say, these guidelines will be excluding a massive number of authors from legally monetizing their fic - from those who write smut to those who like to write some violence, have their characters curse, or just don't manage to provide a good "customer experience". I'm curious what Amazon will make of non-sexually explicit slash.

Some may also consider it an issue that there will apparently be DRM on the stories to prevent them from being read on non-Kindle devices and programs:

Stories will be available in digital format exclusively on Amazon.com, Kindle devices, iOS, Android, and PC/Mac via our Kindle Free Reading apps. We hope to offer additional formats in the future.

And then we come to where the copyright on the submitted stories will go:

Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright. (...) You will own the copyright to the original, copyrightable elements (such as characters, scenes, and events) that you create and include in your work, and the World Licensor will retain the copyright to all the original elements of the World. 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 allow Kindle Worlds authors to build on each other's ideas and elements. 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.

Exactly what this implies is best explained by a legal professional, and I have no doubt that the OTW's lawyers will have some advice ready soon, as they did with earlier corporate attempts to solicit fanworks. However, it certainly sounds like Amazon acquires all publication rights and will give the copyright owner a license to use a fan's contributions without any compensation in any further commercial media they publish. (Whether Amazon gets any additional income from this licensing to the copyright holders isn't mentioned either.) I'm curious about whether, for instance, this licensing agreement with Amazon would permit a fic writer to still offer her story for free on another fic archive.

Regardless - since claiming all rights to fanworks is another thing that many "official" fanwork-soliciting endeavors from Syfy with Battlestar Galactica to the fic contests planned by the infamous Fanlib have been lambasted for, I'm not sure if this will go down well anywhere.

All this doesn't sound like the Kindle Worlds was designed to take fans' rights and concerns into account. The list that Amazon gives of advantages that Kindle Worlds offers to fic writers is tellingly meaningless:

Writers benefit from Kindle Worlds because:

  • Amazon Publishing has already secured the necessary licenses to write about any Kindle World
  • They can earn royalties writing about established characters and universes
  • The Kindle Worlds self-service submission platform is easy to use
The first point seems to imply that fic writers need a license to be allowed to write fic at all, which is a contested idea at the very least; many legal scholars writing about fanworks would probably argue differently. The second point, earning money with fic, may be considered a good thing by some fic authors; I've argued in favor of fic writers considering commodification options, as have others, so I'd personally say that this can indeed be a legitimate advantage - although as mentioned earlier, the fact that fan writers would have no control whatsoever over pricing makes this a qualified "okay then" indeed. The third point, that Kindle Worlds is easy to use, is just silly. Plenty of websites where people can publish fic are easy to use. I get the feeling that they just needed a third point in there to match the three-point list of advantages for copyright holders, and couldn't think of anything.
 Again, I'm not against the idea of "licensed" fic in and of itself, and those who want to agree to Amazon's terms certainly have the right to do so. However, something like Kindle Worlds can be only one option among many for licensing fic, and it definitely shouldn't be a model for other "solutions" to the legal uncertainties surrounding fanworks. The only option for publishing fic legally can't be a platform that takes or licenses away many rights, doesn't give fic authors the option to set prices, and excludes large numbers of fans with its content guidelines. Hopefully, alternatives that strike a better balance between the rights of fans and copyright holders will emerge soon to counter this.
Date: 2013-05-22 06:13 pm (UTC)

owlmoose: (Default)
From: [personal profile] owlmoose
Good article. It's that first piece of the bullet list that concerns me the most, too, just as it has every other time we've gotten on this particular merry-go-round: does this create an expectation that the only "legit" fanworks are those approved by the original IP holders? Which would be a serious step backwards for fandom right now.
Date: 2013-05-22 08:13 pm (UTC)

khellekson: Close-up photo of my face (Default)
From: [personal profile] khellekson
I wish they wouldn't call it "licensed (fan) fic" but instead call it what it is: work for hire by freelancers in a shared world. The terms you're seeing are exactly what I see in the freelance writing world.

(I'm watching the Internetz explode with this. Innnnteresting!)
Date: 2013-05-22 10:53 pm (UTC)

khellekson: Close-up photo of my face (Default)
From: [personal profile] khellekson
Basically they are going to consider unsolicited content. HA HA HA HA HA. Good luck with that. I predict: they will backpedal after some shit goes down that is unpleasant, and stop taking unsolicited MSS, after they get a stable of writers who do well.
Date: 2013-05-22 08:28 pm (UTC)

yoshitsune: text: oh dear i really ought to do something but i am already in my pyjamas (Default)
From: [personal profile] yoshitsune
Wow. Just. I pretty much started laughing in an ugly way at "fan fiction authors get a royalty of 35 percent for works of at least 10,000 words, and a royalty of 20 percent on works between 5,000 and 10,000 words."
Amazon on any way to earn an extra dollar by doing next to nothing but exploiting other people's hard work.

How do Japanese media companies manage to let fandom sell doujinshi and short story collections without much fuss? Is it because the prices are usually not much more than printing off-set? Or because it adds to their business?
Date: 2013-05-23 05:52 am (UTC)

yoshitsune: text: oh dear i really ought to do something but i am already in my pyjamas (Default)
From: [personal profile] yoshitsune
That's interesting. Sad to hear that most artists can't even recoup their printing costs, but I can understand why they'd still do it when they love the fandom. Hm, yeah actually I've been wondering about doujinshi being sold at large manga-oriented stores...

It's kind of funny is a sad way that many Western/U.S. companies are so clueless about how the creative side of fandom functions.
Date: 2013-05-23 01:34 pm (UTC)

flourish: white lady, green eyes, brown hair (Default)
From: [personal profile] flourish
I didn't read the license statement very carefully. That is interesting. I was definitely approaching the whole thing from the perspective of "well, the entertainment industry runs on money. If they think fans can make them money and are willing to pay even a tiny amount back to fans that is a step... well... I'm not sure it's forward, but it's something..."
Date: 2013-05-23 02:34 pm (UTC)

flourish: white lady, green eyes, brown hair (Default)
From: [personal profile] flourish
Completely true—and I do think the desire is to squeeze money out of fandom. It's a short-sighted attitude to take, in my opinion, but that's one effect of capitalism. (Ha.)

Actually, the thing I'm working on right now is something trying to bring fan voices into this conversation—my company has given me a lot of time to think about/work on trying to think of ways to do that and I'm hoping to launch an initiative on it within the next month or so. It was totally serendipitous that Amazon announced this just now.
Date: 2013-05-23 03:23 pm (UTC)

flourish: white lady, green eyes, brown hair (Default)
From: [personal profile] flourish
I basically agree (and I also need to get back to work). I think that if nothing else, any initiative that succeeds will have to embrace and support the existence of a gift economy. I think that forbidding fans to share the stories that appear on Amazon Worlds isn't totally ridiculous, but that doing so without emphasizing that they understand that fans have a choice to participate in this market based story-sharing economy or not is really deeply problematic.

I think that there doesn't necessarily have to be a bridge so much as there has to be a path—a path that can lead both ways, where people start off thinking in terms of money and can exit to a gift economy focus, or vice versa, or can exist in both realms at once (even if one story can't exist in both realms at once).

More info - I'm hoping soon, soon, soon! You'll know: I'll post about it all over the place. :)
Date: 2013-05-23 02:22 pm (UTC)

extempore: (bleh)
From: [personal profile] extempore
This is pretty much the opposite of what fanwork (and by continuation, fandom) is to me. That is nothing else than hiring cheap (as in not costing too much money) authors to write in other people's franchises and under strict rules. Has been common practice for ages in various genres of pulp fiction, for example.
Date: 2013-05-23 02:41 pm (UTC)

extempore: (yume)
From: [personal profile] extempore
I'm always suspicious of attempts to rein fanfic in, to regulate it in some way. Someone wrote a comment in another journal mentioning "the wilds" of fandom and fanfic, and that exactly is, to me, the very core of fandom in its broadest sense. In a way this "wilderness" mirrors some sort of fantasy, of utopia or crazy ideal where people simply enjoy each other and each other's work without limitations. Where everyone finds something to their taste, because everything exists.

Where else do you get something like that? No wonder it tempts, scares or perhaps annoyes outsiders, who try to make some sense of it, get some use out of it, try to find a way to "make it fit".
Edited (Anonymisieren! ;P) Date: 2013-05-23 02:43 pm (UTC)

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