NEWS: Sherrilyn Kenyon sues Cassandra Clare over infringement claims

NEWS: Sherrilyn Kenyon sues Cassandra Clare over infringement claims

What say you, readers of urban fantasy? If you’ve read both series, do you think this lawsuit is justified?

Note (6:15am): Will be updated with links as they become available. (9pm): Updated to link to Dear Author’s analysis of the case so far.

According to the Courthouse News Service, paranormal romance author Sherrilyn Kenyon is suing YA urban fantasy author Cassandra Clare for ‘copyright and trademark infringement and false advertising’ relating to alleged similarities between Kenyon’s Dark-Hunter series and Clare’s Shadowhunter series:

“Comparing the Dark-Hunter series to Clare’s work or works, the literary components are fictional and, in many respects, the elements are virtually identical,” Kenyon’s Feb. 5 lawsuit states. “These substantially similar elements, coupled with defendant’s access to the Dark-Hunter series, which were widely disseminated, leave little doubt that numerous substantive original elements of the Dark-Hunter series have been copied by defendant.”

This news is still breaking, so expect a lot more commentary in the coming weeks. Initial reactions on Twitter are mixed, because it doesn’t look like like a clearcut case. There’s an interesting thread attached to this tweet by Courtney Milan and it’s worth reading. (Note that none of the participants have read the complaint in full yet.)

But this is a little more complicated. These claims have been brewing since as early as 2012 2007 (it could be earlier — I’m not sure as haven’t really followed Clare’s career), and plagiarism claims have dogged Clare since she started her writing career at fan

If the embeds don’t work, you can find the archive of the original plagiarism claim, with citations, here. This comment refers specifically to similarities between Kenyon and Clare’s books.

It’ll be interesting to see how this lawsuit progresses.

Update 11am: Thanks to Azteclady’s comment below for pointing me to these tweets. As Azteclady points out, the plagiarism scandal on isn’t related to this lawsuit, although in my opinion the specific comment around Kenyon and Clare points to a longstanding disagreement between them on how closely the two series resemble each other. Courtney Milan is following this, and I would suggest if you’re interested in the details, you should follow her tweet stream.

The following starts a series of tweets on the exhibits in the case. The full thread will have links to more documents.

And some initial reactions and opinions so far:

Again, I suggest following the conversation for the nuances.

Jane at Dear Author has broken down the issues here. The following are particularly interesting:

There are many examples in the petition of mark confusion including “The Dark-Hunter Series and the Shadowhunter Series are so similar that CLARE’S own publisher mistakenly printed 100,000 copies of a Shadowhunter Book referencing the Dark-Hunter Mark on the cover.” and

“The confusion between dark-hunters and shadowhunters is so pervasive that many online library catalogs use PLAINTIFF’S Dark-Hunter Marks within their description of CLARE’s Shadowhunter Series.

It really doesn’t sound as clear cut, so I think we’ll hear a lot more about this as the case progresses.


  1. azteclady says:

    Courtney Milan elaborates on the law with (a helluva lot) more authority, but copyright infringement/plagiarism are not the same as trademark infringement. This particular complaint does not seem to point to any instances of plagiarism or copyright infringement, and whether or not Cassandra Clare plagiarized someone else at some other time, has no bearing on this case.

  2. Tez Miller says:

    Think I may have seen it in the Ms. Scribe fandomwank, but from what I gather:

    -Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters were originally called Darkhunters (maybe with a hyphen?) There’s even a cached version of her website/blog post wherein it says Darkhunters, and that’s what went out in the first book’s ARC, I hear. Later changed before publication, obviously, because I think Sherrilyn Kenyon made a claim. (With or without legal action.)

    -From then, there was an “agreement” that Shadowhunters would become the new word in the book, though it wouldn’t be part of the series branding…

    -Although now the TV show IS called “Shadowhunters”, and that definitely counts as series branding. So this legal action is about the violation of this “agreement”, which is why not only CC is listed, but also the movie and TV people.

    I have no links to share, because I’m relying on my memory of various articles I’ve read. And my memory is quite dodgy at times, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

    So yeah, I’m pretty sure this has nothing to do with copyrighting tropes, and other authors have nothing to worry about.

    It all depends on how legally solid the “agreement” is, and would have to be pretty specific. I doubt SK will win her case, but maybe, hopefully, people will stop gaslighting those who bring up CC’s plagiarism from her fanfic days. (And word on the street is that she had major privilege in the HP community, and wielded it against people, etc.)

    If I see links come up again, I’ll share them on Twitter.

    P.S. I’ve only read the first three books in the Mortal Instruments series, and the first in the Infernal Devices series. My memory of them isn’t clear. Haven’t read any Kenyon books, but don’t intend to, either, because paranormal romance isn’t my thing anymore.

    • Kat says:

      Thanks, Tez! As I was following the links I saw some hints of a previous agreement and I think it’ll be interesting if such an agreement does exist. Not sure Courtney Milan knows that part of the backstory and has taken it into account in her tweets (and she admits she needs time to digest it all first, which is understandable).

      • Tez Miller says:

        Mind you, I haven’t actually read the complaint. (And probably wouldn’t understand it even if I did.) I read some of Courtney’s Tweets before I went to bed (damn it, why does the interesting stuff always happen overnight?! ;-) ), but this is the only real reason that would make sense for legal action. (link on my Twitter) says that SK’s just looking for compensation, so other authors need not worry about this setting a precedent. Just be careful that if you sign a legal agreement, you don’t later violate it ;-)

        Mind you, I know nothing about legal stuff. I know nothing about everything, really ;-)

    • azteclady says:

      Ms Miller, I am wondering if you think that I meant to gaslight you by pointing out that Clare’s plagiarism of other works, at some other time, is irrelevant to this particular claim of copyright infringement.

      Please know that I have Clare in my list of “authors I’ll never read” precisely because of her plagiarism–I am not, and have never been, a fan of her in any guise. Further, I tend to hold grudges over plagiarism, and much more so when the culprit is shamelessly unapologetic and happy to shift blame to the injured party.

      However, I believe (not a lawyer, etc) that an incident of plagiarism that was never brought to court, cannot be cited/part of an entirely different case. I doubt–though I’m willing to be wrong–that Kenyon’s lawyers can bring Clare’s alleged (meaning, not proven in a court of law) prior plagiarism to show pattern or behaviour, or whatever.

      Is pointing that out, gaslighting?

      • Tez Miller says:

        Oh, I wasn’t referring to you at all. (Didn’t read your comment, to be honest.) I was actually reminded me a Tumblr with screenshots going around on Twitter again on Feb 1.

        Commented a friend: “The aim of post like this is to show hp fans aren’t making this up and to stop Clare’s YA author friends from gaslighting hp fans who speak ill of Clare. Which you know, can be social death in some YA circles.”

      • azteclady says:

        Oh, I apologize–and I completely see what you mean; I’ve been aware of the plagiarism accusations for a long time, and I’ve seen the proof (plenty of linkage at here).

        As I see it, though, the problem with bringing up Clare’s prior plagiarism into this legal case is that it muddies the waters.

        Plus, the whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’ bit–it is possible (not likely, as far as I’m concerned, but possible), that Clare has actually not done anything wrong in this case.

    • Daniele says:

      There is an actual copyright claim, and she’s demanding CC not to use such tropes again, which is even worse.

      Also, the claim doesn’t mention any agreement. If she did have an agreement, it would surely be mentioned, since it would make her case.

      If you read everything, frankly, it’s absolute bullshit. You can’t stop people from using common english words because you’re too unoriginal to create your own impacting name.

      You can read it here:

      • Kat says:

        Also, the claim doesn’t mention any agreement. If she did have an agreement, it would surely be mentioned, since it would make her case.

        Based on pp4-5, it sounds like there’s an unwritten agreement of some sort. I assume SK would have some documentation to back that up.

        I don’t know enough about US copyright to have more than a guess on what’s going on, tbh. But copyright infringement doesn’t usually just cover plagiarism, iirc. It includes the rights to make derivative works, which is what I think SK is alleging.

        You can’t stop people from using common english words because you’re too unoriginal to create your own impacting name.

        I mean, tell that to Apple. ;-)

        More generally, if the case is as ridiculous as it seems to many people, then hopefully it will be resolved sooner rather than later. But it does worry me how so few authors (the ones panicking on Twitter) seem to understand copyright laws that directly apply to them.

      • Daniele says:

        Haha, when you mention Apple, you’re basically comparing her to the unreasonable troll that was Steve Jobs. =P
        It’s perfectly doable by law, but it’s still stupid.

        No, she isn’t claiming that her work is a derivative.

        While I was looking for the document to give proof of that claim, though, I found a photo of her book’s symbol as one of the “proofs” given. I was curious, so I googled it, and sure enough:

        Dark Hunters:

        Mortal Instruments/Shadow Hunters:

        Now, those symbols are weird enough in design that, coupled with everything else, makes me a little less skeptical of her copyright claims! xD
        Still, if there is a derivative works clause, I wish she had used it instead.
        I don’t know a lot of US copyright law, because I’m a Brazillian author. But all this shitstorm still worries me.

      • Daniele says:

        I showed these images to a fan of both series, and he told me that the symbol is a major part of Mortal Instruments, and it was introduced in the first book, published 2007.

        Meanwhile, in the Dark Hunters, that symbol was made for a minor character introduced in 2008, and it’s pretty minor.

        Makes you wonder who copied who. Considering this claim was dragging from 2006, could SK have copied details from CC’s books in later series just for the purpose of suing her? She could easily bank on CC’s infamy to get people on her side.

        That symbol is used as one of the accusation’s evidences.

        Not only that, SK compiled a list of similarities between all the books to make her defense, and a lot of people who read those series are saying that many of those so said “copied” details were published by CC before they were published by SK.

        That’s really, reeeeeally iffy.

      • Daniele says:

        I forgot to place the link twice. Here you go:

        So, people say that nearly every detail of Nick’s life was only expanded upon in “Chronicles of Nick”, of which book was first published in 2010.

        Clary, on the other hand, is the main character of “City of Bones”, and her life was expanded upon in 2007.

      • Kat says:

        Haha, when you mention Apple, you’re basically comparing her to the unreasonable troll that was Steve Jobs. =P

        Um, okay then?

        It’s perfectly doable by law, but it’s still stupid.

        Okay, but it’s a lawsuit, not a stupidity evaluation.

        But all this shitstorm still worries me.

        Not sure why, since SK’s examples of overlaps sounded pretty specific to me — publisher’s materials, library catalogues, artwork. Most *similar* stories, including tropes, etc wouldn’t have that level of overlap, imo.

        That’s really, reeeeeally iffy.

        Then I look forward to CC’s defence. I haven’t read enough of CC’s books to have an opinion, and it’s been so long since I’ve read SK’s series I couldn’t even remember the symbols, tbh.

  3. Kat says:

    I’m only marginally interested in this one so I’ll probably follow it via Courtney’s tweet stream. Wasn’t CC at the Brisbane Writers Festival last year? Wonder if any of the past controversies came up at her panels?

  4. Kathleen says:

    I’ve read both series. Clare’s YA books are about teenagers descended from an angel who can create marks to stop evil. Kenyon’s books are adult romance novels about 20-somethings with a bit of vampire in them who died horribly and were conscripted by Artemis to fight evil over the course of centuries… Also, while there is romance in Clare’s books it is nothing like Kenyon’s hot kinky sex scenes.

    FYI, I don’t know anything about the plagiarism claims in the past by Cassandra Clare (I just read the books – rarely looking the author up) but that is something else entirely. This just seems kind of weird.

    I mean, Kenyon’s very first book in what would become the Dark-Hunter series was about a man trapped as a sex slave in a book!

    • Kat says:

      I’ve read book 1 of the MI series, and maybe 8 books in the DH series, and yeah, I don’t recall them being very close in terms of the stories. I’d say JR Ward’s BDB is probably closer to SK’s hero archetypes. I remember when readers were talking about how much Zsadist and Zarek resembled each other. And then, of course, there were other books with similar types of characters and worlds. But I guess none of them get confused in library catalogues and publishers’ marketing materials! IMO that’s not CC’s fault, but I can also see why SK would want to protect her brand, I guess.

    • Kay says:

      The series in question in SK’s YA series Chronicles of Nick which is about a character who finds out he’s part demon after being introduced to the Dark Hunter world. That scene in question where Nick is saved by a tattooed “goth” stranger dressed in leather is from Kenyon’s book Night Pleasures which was published back in the 90’s. This scene is then revisited from Nick’s perspective in the first Chronicles of Nick book Infinity. Kenyon did not copy Clare and furthermore Kenyon has trademarked the symbols associated with her characters. Please, stop besmirching an author who is only asking for the credit she is due for the rich world she has created.

      • azteclady says:

        Sorry, I must have reading comprehension issues.

        How is Kat reporting on the lawsuit ‘besmirching’ anyone?

        How is discussing, within the limits of what we may or may not know about US copyright/trademark law, ‘besmirching’ anyone?

  5. Kay says:

    I was referring to the idea that SK purposely copied CC’s work in order to later asue CC put forth by Danielle in an earlier comment.I have no problem discussing the case at hand I just find the idea that SK copied CC to sue her later rather ridiculous, illogical and inflametory.

    • Kat says:

      the idea that SK copied CC to sue her later

      I agree that this seems like a far-fetched theory. If nothing else, it’s an expensive gamble. I’m assuming Kenyon feels she has enough of a case to pursue it because legal expenses are definitely not cheap!

  6. Kay says:

    From everything we know about Kenyon as a person I feel confident that she wouldn’t file a lawsuit unless she felt it was justified and that she had a strong case. You are correct that they are expensive and contrary to what some people have said she is not a jealous, vindictive, money grubbing person. She has expressed numerous times that she is greatful to have a career doing what she loves and I don’t believe she would ruin another writer’s reputation unless she felt she had no choice but to protect what she sees as belonging to her.

    • azteclady says:

      In the US of A, people sue for every damn thing, whether they have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning or not, so I’m not taking the fact that Ms Kenyon sued as automatic proof that she has a legal leg to stand on.

      And no, the fact that a lawyer agreed to file still doesn’t validate any legal claims.

What do you think?