by Janis Patterson
Early this year I was talking with a dear friend of mine, a very successful romance writer who is so successful that she has her own Kindle World. For those who don’t know what KW is, it’s sort of a legitimized fan fiction scheme. A world is based on a popular book/series. People who want to write in that world can – as long as they follow certain contractual restrictions. If accepted by a Kindle committee, the book will be published, with half the income going to the original author. A different concept, but so far, so good.
To a point.
As I said, I was talking with my friend and we agreed that it would be a fun thing for me to come play in her world. She’s a multi-NYT, USA bestseller, so it would have been good for me. I wrote a book – and had a marvelous time doing it, as her fictional world is set in one of my favorite places in the real world, so it was sort of like a mini-vacation. Then, while finishing the book, I thought I should take another look at the KW rules before submitting, as I had only glanced at them before.
What a shock. Copied from the KW ‘how it works’ page :
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 of the original elements of the World. When you submit your story in a World, you grant Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all of the original elements you include in that story for the term of copyright. This means that your story and all of the new elements must stay within the applicable World, and you can use only this platform to write about them. (Emphasis mine.)
Whaaaat? You own the copyright, but grant them exclusive license to the story and ALL original elements in your story for the life of the copyright? (That is 75 years after your death, in case you didn’t know.) And if you want to write more using those characters they not only have to be exclusive to Amazon, but to KW? Worse still, if Amazon decides to end KW, or pull your book from the canon, your characters and original elements are still under their control. They can vanish from public view forever and contractually you can’t do a thing about it.
Amazon goes on to say :
We recommend that you do not incorporate an original character or elements unless you want them to become an exclusive part of that World. In short, Kindle Worlds is a place to be creative and explore a popular World, but anything you create will become part of that World. (Emphasis mine.)
And, to be fair, they do say :
If this is not right for you, Amazon has many platforms (including Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace) for writers who want to be creative with original ideas but do not want their work under this kind of license.
What I don’t understand is why would anyone give away their rights for what is pretty much perpetuity like this? Especially for just HALF of the royalties? Amazon even says bluntly that no rights will be reverted before the end of copyright. Period. I know there has been a trend lately among traditional publishers to hold on to (sometimes to the point of refusing to return them no matter what the contract says) or demand longer terms on rights, but I find this is incredible.
Needless to say, I called my friend and said that I would not be putting anything into her world, that I could not simply give away my rights like that. I do intend to publish the book, but I was very careful to scrub it of any reference to her world or her characters, except for the physical location, which actually exists and has been used in books for at least a century. I offered to send her a manuscript copy so that she could be sure that there was no overlap with her work, but she most graciously said it wasn’t necessary. (We have been friends for many years…)
So while I can only goggle at anyone who would simply hand over the rights to their characters and ideas as well as their right to publish anywhere they want, such a rights confiscation apparently is not illegal. The writer has to submit and sign of their own free will, which makes the contract (however unfair I regard it) valid. I don’t have the right to order anyone not to accept such an arrangement (not that they would listen to me) because it’s their business, not mine. All I can do is beg everyone to read the FAQs and the contracts very carefully and make sure they completely understand just what they are signing away and for how long. Then I would remind them that they should do the same with every contract offered them, no matter from whom it comes. If there is the slightest question, they should turn to their agent (if they have one) or talk with an intellectual property lawyer. Or both.
Unfortunately the publishing world – like the world of movies and TV – is just brimming with sharks waiting to gobble up the creativity of the naïve. You the writers are the only ones who can protect yourselves and your creations. Make sure that any choice you make is a good one.