The Shadowhunters vs. the Dark-Hunters: A lawsuit between two best-selling authors involves fantasy, romance, charges of plagiarism, and fan fiction gone mainstream.

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News Media Commentary
Title: The Shadowhunters vs. the Dark-Hunters: A lawsuit between two best-selling authors involves fantasy, romance, charges of plagiarism, and fan fiction gone mainstream.
Commentator: Laura Miller for "Slate"
Date(s): February 16, 2016
Venue:
Fandom:
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The Shadowhunters vs. the Dark-Hunters: A lawsuit between two best-selling authors involves fantasy, romance, charges of plagiarism, and fan fiction gone mainstream. is a 2016 article by Laura Miller for "Slate."

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts

... egging Kenyon on is a legion of implacable Cassandra Clare detractors who have had it in for the YA phenom since her apprenticeship years in the notoriously toxic subculture of Harry Potter fandom.

“I know Clare can be a divisive figure,” Milan tweeted, “but no one who cares about books should be rooting for her to lose the copyright claim.” Yet many are, and with a ferocious vehemence that seems out of proportion to Kenyon’s thinly supported complaint. This contingent has turned out to crow over Clare’s travails in comments threads at Entertainment Weekly, the Wrap, Interrobang, and any other publication that covered the story: “yas, sue that fucker,” reads one. “she’s had it coming for a looooooooooooooooooooooong time.” “Jk Rowling should sue this bitch as well,” reads another, “seeing as her fanfiction back in the day which became TMI was a Harry Potter fanfic and it also took things from the Dark Hunter series as well. … It’s about time she gets sued.”

This is the history that Clare seems unable to escape, whether you believe, as these commenters do, that she is a terrible person who has committed countless personal and professional misdeeds, or you think, as Clare partisans do, that she is dogged by legions of unhinged haters. Some of these critics claim firsthand experience of Clare’s wrongdoing, back in the early 2000s, when she became involved in the burgeoning Harry Potter fan-fiction community and rose to the top of a perceived social hierarchy that generated considerable resentment. “She was a BNF [big-name fan] and belonged to this clique,” Elizabeth Minkel, who writes about fan culture for the New Statesman, told me. “This happens a lot in fandom. It feels very much like high school.”
One of the first big fandoms to fully deploy the communication potential of the Internet, Harry Potter fandom was also the most infamous for its scandals, intrigues, and in-fighting—controversies that unfolded in seemingly endless discussion threads and frequently degenerated into accusations of harassment, stalking, sock-puppetry, doxxing, cyberbullying, and attempts to sabotage enemies’ real-life positions at work and at school. These saga-like feuds are referred to as wank, a word that embodies fandom’s ambivalent relationship to its own social climate. Until last year, a community named Fandom Wank existed for the sole purpose of posting mocking reports on wanks for the entertainment of the fan community at large. Yet the very ferocity that fuels wanks indicates how violently people care about what would strike most outsiders as absurdly petty offenses and disputes, like which fictional character ought to become romantically involved with another fictional character.
If Harry Potter fans generated the most epic wanks in the fan world, then Cassandra Clare was ground zero for some of the wankiest wanks in all of fandom. Clare’s fan fiction—originally published as the work of Cassandra Claire (both names are pseudonyms)—included 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, albeit with ample homoeroticism (a fan-fiction staple) crackling between Harry and Draco. The trilogy was hugely popular, leading to much complaining about Clare’s cloyingly devoted “fangirls.” But it’s still not entirely clear from this remove just why she became and has remained such a lightning rod. It is true that Clare reproduced word-for-word passages from a traditionally published fantasy novel, then out of print, by Pamela Dean in one of her fan fictions, Draco Sinister, with only nominal citation. This is the basis on which her detractors accuse her of being a plagiarist. And having scrutinized, via the Wayback Machine, a lengthy document on the case, I do think she crossed a line in this instance. Other charges — that Clare improperly used bits of dialogue, devices, and wisecracks from TV shows and books — are baffling to anyone rooted in the broader literary culture where such allusions and quotations are considered a sign of erudition or postmodern fun. (Clare’s fiction came with notations informing readers that her work included such quotes.)
I have friends with deep roots in fandom — albeit without much connection to this particular sector of it — who believe that this is the true source of the undying animosity toward Clare: 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.’ Because the overriding fear was intellectual property holders would sue everybody and shut fandom down.” Rights-holders that once issued cease-and-desists against fan sites for using promotional photos now encourage fan art and other tributes, Jones says, but in the early 2000s, “I just really cannot overstate the sense of living on borrowed time by the grace of the IP holders.” This would explain why word-for-word plagiarism, as opposed to the transformative appropriation of another creator’s characters and setting, would seem a catastrophically reckless sin against the entire community.
Of course, Clare was reviled—and adored—in Harry Potter fandom even before the plagiarism charges against her came to light. And fan fiction itself has come a long way, spawning numerous real-world stars, fan writers such as E.L. James who move on to publish best-sellers. Clare was among the very first to do this. But the prospect of going pro and striking it rich seems to many fan-fiction writers like a serpent in the garden, corrupting what once felt like an idyllic, egalitarian gift-economy of like-minded dabblers. Once, fandom was a destination in itself; now it’s just another stepping stone for ambitious writers with their eyes on a richer prize. Like so much of the idealism of the early Internet, this, too, has become an offshoot of the marketplace. “I think what you don’t understand,” one friend told me when I expressed bafflement that Clare’s fellow fan-fiction writers didn’t view the popularity of her books as a feather in their collective cap, “is that a lot of them just feel used.” When I admitted that didn’t make sense to me, she added, “It’s hard to explain, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.”