Sherrilyn Kenyon Sues Cassandra Clare for Trademark and Copyright Infringement

Posted on February 18, 2016

Sherrilyn Kenyon author photo

It's the biggest author on author copyright violation lawsuit since Nora Roberts blew the whistle on mega bestselling author Janet Daily for plagiarism. New York Times bestselling paranormal romance author Sherrilyn Kenyon is suing New York Times bestselling YA paranormal author Cassandra Clare in federal court for copyright infringement, trademark infringement, unfair competition, false advertising and trade dress infringement arising under the Lanham Act and the Copyright Act of 1976. Kenyon claims that Clare copied Kenyon's Dark Hunter series and turned it in the Mortal Instruments Shadowhunter series.

Courthouse News reports that the lawsuit lists extensive details of how Ms. Clare's series is exactly similar to Ms. Kenyon's series. Ms. Kenyon's series was first published in 1998, Ms. Clare's first novel was published in 2006. The lawsuit alleges, "Both the Dark Hunter series and the Shadowhunter series are about an elite band of warriors that must protect the human world from the unseen paranormal threat that seeks to destroy humans as they go about their daily lives. These hunters, whether 'dark' or 'shadow,' preserve the balance between good and evil, protecting humans from being consumed or enslaved."

Ms. Kenyon alleges that in 2006 she asked Ms. Clare to desist from using the term shadowhunter as it confusingly similar to Ms. Kenyon's trademarked term Dark- Hunter, Dream-Hunter and Were-Hunter after her fans alerted her to the new book. Ms. Kenyon's lawsuit says that Ms. Clare removed the reference to hunter in any format in the title, and the book was instead published with the title The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.

The lawsuit alleges that Ms. Clare's work is so similar to Ms. Kenyon's that her own publisher mixed them up by mistakenly printing 100,000 copies of Ms. Clare's book with the Dark-Hunter mark on the cover. The publisher was forced to destroy tens of thousands of books, but thousands more were sold with the infringing trademark. This little detail is the kind thing that helps win trademark lawsuits. If true, being able to show substantial confusion in the marketplace which caused actual monetary damages will weigh heavily in Ms. Kenyon's favor. She has an excellent chance of prevailing on the trademark claims if the evidence backs up her allegations.

As for the copyright claims, that is a tougher demon to slay. One cannot copyright an idea and a group of half angels fighting the supernatural to protect humanity is not new, nor is it copyrightable. However, the lawsuit does list in excruciating detail how similar the plots, characters and details of books are. You can read the side by side details of this case's alleged copyright violations here, at the website of romance author and former attorney Courtney Milan). In the Nora Roberts case, Janet Daily had lifted numerous passages directly from Ms. Roberts' work verbatim, which was a much easier case to make. That case settled out of court and Janet Daily's career was destroyed. This is a much different case.

The lawsuit fight has already gotten pretty nasty online. Ms. Clare began her career writing fan fiction in the world of Harry Potter and garnered both supporters and detractors there. Slate's Laura Miller has an excellent article in which she delves deep into the seething passions of online fandom and how Ms. Clare's time as a fan fiction writer still haunts her.

Shadowhunters was been made into a feature film starring Lily Collins and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, but did not perform well enough to warrant a sequel. Shadowhunters moved to television, and is currently airing on Freeform (formerly ABC Family) although a second season seems somewhat unlikely at this point.

Photo: Sherrilyn Kenyon