The problem of plagiarism isn’t a new one. But today, in the internet age where writing “fan fiction” is becoming more and more popular, the lines are becoming blurred. For example, the popular 50 Shades of Gray series originally was written as Twilight fan fiction (if you didn’t already know that- the similarities are very apparent). There are websites and forums where fans post elaborate tales and fan-fiction writing seems to have formed its own subculture.
On February 5th No. 1 New York Times best-selling author Sherrilyn Kenyon sued No. 1 New York Times best-selling author Cassandra Clare. She filed a complaint of copyright and trademark infringement, claiming that Clare copied her Dark Hunter’s series trope (“an elite band of warriors that must protect the human world from the unseen paranormal threat”) in her popular Mortal Instruments series (which has recently been made into a television show for teens which I’m sure precipitated the lawsuit). Both Kenyon’s and Clare’s series feature secret societies of supernatural crusaders tasked with protecting the unsuspecting human race from predatory demons. Kenyon’s are “dark-hunters”; Clare calls her group “shadowhunters.”
Clare, who prior to her career as YA author, was largely involved in Harry Potter fan-fiction sites, so she isn’t a stranger to building on the ideas of others. Attached to Kenyon’s complaint is a detailed list of similarities between the Dark-Hunter series and Mortal Instruments. These include such motifs as objects “including without limitation a cup, a sword, and a mirror, each imbued with magical properties to help battle evil and protect mankind.” And both “Dark-Hunters and Shadowhunters have enchanted swords that are divinely forged, imbued with otherworldly spirits, have unique names, and glow like heavenly fire.”
Personally, as someone who reads a LOT of YA fiction….this isn’t exactly uncommon. YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy novels are filled with these tropes. However, these two series do seem a little bit too familiar. To me this issue speaks to something that I’ve been thinking for a long time- that there needs to be more diversity in YA literature and publishes should be open to more unique story lines.