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Loose Canon - A New Kind Of Fan Fiction
The legalization and commercialization of fan fiction is already in full force. Amazon is leading the industry in this space with its Kindle Worlds store which allows anyone to legally create, publish, and profit from fan fictions created using participating intellectual properties. For the first time fan and canonical stories are being sold side by side completely legally with both sides profiting. New companies are already planning similar services and license arrangements. It's a big step forward but the very act of approving, licensing, and selling these works alters them into something that can be quite different from the fan-fiction we see today. These officially licensed and sanctioned, but non-canonical fictions, may represent a new level of fiction between strict canon and non-canon.
You can already see a difference in the fan fiction offered on Kindle Worlds vs the stories on other popular fan fiction sites like fanfiction.net and AO3. It's cleaner, more directed, closer to canon, and more commercial. Of course that could just be the tone of the first blush of fan/pro writers Amazon commissioned to seed its new store. In fact it is tempting to think of this new category as merely a "sanitized" or corporate version of fan fiction, and that might turn out to be the case, but there are some interesting things in Amazon's license agreements that point to different possibilities. Two points specifically seem poised to create a divergence from both current fan fiction and from canonical fiction.
Although fan fiction licensed under the Kindle Worlds agreement might be free from canonical restraints, it is not free from messaging and commercial restraints. By using an Amazon Kindle Worlds license fans must agree to write in accordance to Amazon's Content Guidelines. These guidelines outline a relatively strict (for fan fiction) range of content restraints. In addition to Amazon's Content Guidelines there are also Content Guidelines for each individual intellectual property (or "World" in Amazon's terms) which give the World license holder even more ability to shape this "sanctioned" fan content. In theory they give license holders almost unlimited power to enforce the tone and content of stories. Although most World license holders seem to be using these content guidelines sparingly their effects are still creating very different sets of possible stories from world to world.
In Valiant Entertainment's Content Guidelines there are strict rules for how characters in fan works should behave and act. It emphasizes that they should behave "in character" just as they do in the canonical works. It also outlines how they should act and feel about a wide range of topics ranging from discrimination, sex, torture, and violence. There are even rules which do not allow for "wanton disregard for scientific and historical accuracy". This aligns the stories quite closely with the canon and creates a very different feel from traditional fan fiction and the licensed fan fiction of other Worlds.
How detailed might these guidelines become? There is no upper limit. Anyone who has ever licensed popular intellectual property or created derivative works will be familiar with the book-like lengths some content guidelines can reach.
Not only can these content guidelines be used to limit content but also to protect and help define how Amazon's own content guidelines will be interpreted. Hugh Howey's Silo Saga has specific provisions stating that " Sex between characters is permitted. Homosexuality and explorations of gender identity are not frowned upon in the least." As far as Amazon is concerned it seems that it is these World Content Guidelines that will carry the most weight in general decisions about content appropriateness. In an interview by Barry Eisler with Philip Patrick, Head of Kindle Worlds, he expresses that this second tier of guidelines is really what will determine the acceptability of submissions, especially around tricky areas like adult content.
"As for the mature content it really does depend on the World. If slash fic is okay with the World it is okay with us. We want people to be creative and work within what the World Licensors tells us is appropriate for their World. "
In essence these guidelines are creating a level of alignment with the canon and its values. They define how closely new fan stories must orbit the canonical World and maybe more importantly how "on message" they need to be. It is easy to see that the content and values of these types of fan fictions could be quite different from each other in the future. For instance what might be acceptable for a sanctioned Mario fan fiction could vary quite a bit from a sanctioned Evil Dead fan fiction. And both could be quite different from the unsanctioned fan fictions found today.
The second major diverging point between this new category of fan-fiction and current non-canonical fan-fiction is that it might actually be canon. By agreeing to the Kindle Worlds license everything written suddenly becomes "potential canon".
The reason for this is that when you submit a story to Kindle Worlds you give Amazon an exclusive license to everything in your story and they pass that on to the World Licensor as stated here :
" 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."
So a fan author is now put in a similar position to the one the World Licensor used to be in. Ironic?
Of course the reason for such clauses isn't to steal fan creators' ideas. It's to protect the World Licensor from frivolous lawsuits. Potential lawsuits have been a common worry of authors and producers for a long time and have had a major freezing effect on how authors allow themselves to interact with fans and their creative works. No author wants to be sued by a fan because something in development is too similar to something in a sanctioned or non-sanctioned fan fiction.
It seems unlikely that a license holder would really not compensate a fan author for a truly original idea if only to get a more secure license and encourage the community, but they could. Anything that is written under the Kindle Worlds license can, at any time, become canon, or in the time table of the world itself, have always been canon. Plots, characters, settings, can all become canon at any time and then pass back into fan fiction again.
It is possible that now we will see the emerging of a broad new class of fan-fiction that exists somewhere between canon and non canonical. A "closer to canon" grey area that may well cross back and forth from canon to fan fiction and back again. It will be "approved" but not official. Outside of canonical boundaries, but not of "commercial" or messaging boundaries. It will be a derivative fiction that must tie in much more closely to the original source material and respect similar boundaries. A creative work that exists as the potential canon of some other creator's work.
The existence of this type of licensed fan creation might also create more of a polarization between itself and traditional fan-fiction in both content and legal status. If there is a legal alternative, won't it make traditional fan fiction that much more at risk? In the future it would not be unrealistic to expect that new intellectual properties will be created with open "fan" licenses, incentives, and strategies designed from inception to encourage this type of creative activity. It may even be that in the future this very rare category may grow until "licensed fan fiction" is the norm and simply considered "fan-fiction" and we'll need a new word for the edgier non-licensed works that first started this movement.
If any of you word-smiths out there can coin a term it could use a good name.