Life in progress


Inspiration and Copyright Infringement – How Fine Is The Line?

There are, arguably, seven basic plots. I won’t list them here, but you can find them if you click this link: The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker. All seven can be said to result from real life inspiration. While fiction can take these inspirations to incredible heights, the ideas begin from somewhere.

So we have inspiration, yes?

It was brought to my attention this morning that there has been a lawsuit taken up by Sherrilyn Kenyon, bestselling author of the Dark-Hunter paranormal romance series, accusing Cassandra Clare, bestselling author of Mortal Instruments and the Shadowhunter series, of copyright infringement. (Read the article here: )

In this particular case, it seems to me a clear case of copying: if you read the exhibit (click here) given in the lawsuit, the infinite monkey theorem comes to mind as the only other possible explanation, particularly when Clare denies even having been inspired by Kenyon’s work. Either that or both authors are the same person and the lawsuit is an attempt to drum up business.

…hey, there’s an idea for a novel. You see what I mean? THAT’s inspiration.

While there is a lively discussion going on in the FaceBook group I belong to about whether or not an author can own an idea, and how within a genre certain aspects of creations (worlds, characters, fantastical traits) will keep popping up, there has to be a line upon which copying and inspiration is drawn. And my FaceBook acquaintances have a very good point. Though fiction is inspired by real life, fiction also inspires more fiction. How many novels and screenplays have been inspired by the character of Dracula? Countless. Although Dracula may be a bad example because its copyrights have expired, normally permission must be given to copy a story. But what about inspiration? I’m sure Ann Rice and Stephenie Meyer had no issues over creating vampires as their main characters. The point is, they created their own brand of vampires, expanding on the inspiration they received from the Master.

Just as there are only so many plotlines, world building is similarly restricted to having features that we humans can relate to; characters as well. There is a common fear among authors that we are infringing upon each other’s ideas, and these restrictions are to blame. Of course we can’t read everything, just to make sure, but when we do read something that inspires us, I believe it’s the mark of a good author that he or she can expand that inspiration to create something new from it.

So we have copyright infringement vs. inspiration. Is there a magic number of similarities which define where the line is and when it’s crossed? If so, what is it? Have you ever read something that you think crosses the line? Let’s discuss.