February 19, 2016

When bestselling authors sue (other bestselling authors)


Sherrilyn Kenyon (above) filed a complaint citing similarities between her series and a series by Cassandra Clare.

There’s bad blood brewing in the world of mega-selling fantasy authors. Last week, Isabella Biedenharn at EW reported on a lawsuit filed by Sherrilyn Kenyon:

Cassandra Clare, the YA phenom best known for her Shadowhunters series, is being sued by author Sherrilyn Kenyon for “for trademark infringement, copyright infringement, unfair competition, false advertising, and trade dress infringement,” according to a lawsuit filed in Kenyon’s home state of Tennessee on Feb. 5. The author seeks compensatory damages for lost profits based on similarities between Clare’s Shadowhunters series and Kenyon’s own Dark Hunter series.

Beidenharn also posted a response from Clare’s attorney:

UPDATE (2/11/16): EW has received a statement from Clare’s attorney, John Cahill, which says that Kenyon’s “lawsuit failed to identify a single instance of actual copying or plagiarism by Cassie,” and notes that some ideas Kenyon claims Clare stole, like having “normal objects…. imbued with magical properties such as a cup, a sword, and a mirror,” have long been part of the human storytelling process.

At Slate, Laura Miller took a look at the charges, and noted, much like Cahill, that “to the puzzlement of many observers, the lawsuit isn’t concerned with ‘word-for-word plagiarism’, but what looks like Kenyon’s attempt to claim ownership of some of the most archetypal themes in popular culture (‘an elite band of warriors that must protect the human world from the unseen paranormal threat,’ for example).” Plus, Miller writes, the feud is being helped along by lingering bad feelings from the fan-fiction community, where Clare got her start, both writing and collecting enemies. (She’s the author of “three novels that made up the Draco Trilogy, a rewriting of J.K. Rowling’s series that pairs Harry with Hermione and Ginny Weasley with Draco Malfoy.”)

Miller reports:

She left fandom “badly,” or, worse yet, she seemed to be repudiating her own origins in that community by changing the spelling of her name. Fan-fiction writers are routinely and viciously ridiculed and shamed for their hobby, which makes their communities especially insular and self-policing. “Back in the day,” Cleolinda Jones, a onetime regular at Fandom Wank, wrote to me, “we used to say, ‘The first rule of fanfic is, do not take money for your fanfic.’

Clare did make money, and she was one of the first to leave her fellow writers in the insular community to become a mainstream success. Now, according to Miller’s source, “a lot of them just feel used.”

The argument is more nuanced than lingering bitterness toward a specific author, of course. Miller points to a series of tweets by romance author Courtney Milan:“95% of what she is claiming are character tropes and journeys and items from our shared literary background…no one who cares about books should be rooting for her to lose the copyright claim.”



Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.