Amazon Kindle Worlds: Fan-Fiction’s New Normal?
Last summer, Amazon introduced Kindle Worlds, an e-book publishing platform for fan-fiction. When announced, Kindle Worlds had licensed three Alloy Entertainment YA novel series/TV properties—The CW’s Gossip Girl (GG) and The Vampire Diaries (TVD), and ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars (PLL)—and has since added G.I. Joe, Veronica Mars, and seventeen others.
What makes Kindle Worlds different from all other fan-fiction platforms? Three things: (1) Money—a cost of $0.99–$3.99 per e-book; (2) A Kindle-/iBooks-like platform that does not require constant Internet connectivity, unlike the typical web-based stories; and (3) Selectivity in authorship, managed by Amazon subject to guidelines approved by the property’s owner.
Internet fan-fiction is voluminous—ex. 1.33M Google search results for GG, 7.36M for TVD, and 5.55M for PLL—and most is available at no cost. Why then would readers buy from Amazon what others sites give away for free?
The preferable platform and more selective standards of authorship likely play a role in readers’ current decisions—and U.S. copyright law’s “Fair Use” exception (17 U.S.C. § 107) may come to affect future purchases.
By licensing fan-fiction publication rights to Amazon, Alloy adds Kindle Worlds to the “potential market” considered in fair use’s fourth factor (“the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work” [§107(4)—interpreted by Robinson v. Random House (at 842), Campbell v. Acuff-Rose (at 592), Castle Rock v. Carol Publishing (at 271-72) and others]). As free fan-fiction would naturally (and negatively) impact a market, a court is likely to find that this factor favors the copyright owner, Alloy.
Arguably, fan-fiction rated R and NC-17 should be excluded here, given that Kindle Worlds’ GG, TVD, and PLL “Content Guidelines” prohibit “[p]ornography” and “[o]ffensive [c]ontent”—meaning that TV’s GG can show a blush-worthy encounter between Chuck and Blair in his limo’s spacious backseat (#1.7 – “Victor/Victrola”—watch below, starting at 0:59), but Kindle Worlds can reject a GG fanfic that describes a similar tryst based on the author’s word-choice. Ergo, sites featuring only blue fan-fiction do not impact the same market(s) as their un-obscene peers.
Hence, Kindle Worlds gives Alloy and Amazon an incentive to seek damages and the shutdown of free fan-fiction sites (via the Digital Millennium Copyright Act), and places the odds of winning firmly in their favor. Over time, fear of large damage awards and litigation costs would likely lead to voluntary site shutdowns and the gradual extinction of free fan-fiction.
And thus, what is currently an impetus to pay for fan-fiction could become a necessity—depending on who licenses what to whom (and for how much).
Featured Image: © 2014 Amazon.com, Inc.
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