The New York Times has a long and fascinating article in the Business Section of the issue of 24 May. (You may need a subscription to see this I fear.) The piece involves the saga of suit and counter-suit from a couple of authors active in the Omegaverse. The Omegaverse is a sort of fan fic phenomenon, involving folks writing and sharing futuristic wolf-themed erotica. Apparently 70,000 stories set in the Omegaverse have been published on the site Archive our own. One author, Ms Cain, took tropes from this “conversation” and wrote novels which tuned out to be wildly successful. These books were adapted from her earlier unpublished Batman fan fic erotica. She later discovered another author, Ms Ellis, who was writing novels using the same tropes, and also selling lots of books. Ms Cain issued “takedown” notices, as allowed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act*, and sales of Ms Ellis’ books stopped. Ms Ellis is countersuing on the basis that Ms Cain owned no copyright in these group-sourced characters and situations, nor does it seem that the words of any of Ms Cain’s books were duplicated (which of course is the real basis of copyright — you can’t copyright a story line or a character). In a statement which doesn’t increase confidence in her, Ms Cain reports that she hasn’t actually checked to see if any words were actually duplicated as the experience of reading Ms Ellis’ books would have been too upsetting! “It was hard for me to read them side by side, honestly, because I felt very violated.”

It is interesting to note just how much money there is to be made writing this sort of stuff. Ms Cain is quoted as saying in a 2016 sci-fi/fantasy podcast “Dip your toes into the erotica pool. There’s nothing to do here but make money.” At a relatively early stage in her career, it seems, her publisher, Blushing Books, reported that the series had made $370,000. The amounts of money to be made have obviously turned Ms Cain from a fan into a tycoon, whose motivation has shifted from lust to lucre. Blushing Books has dropped out of the suit admitting that no plagiarism or copyright violation has taken place. The law is moving forward as the law does. The Times article concludes: “In the meantime, the Omegaverse continues to thrive. This year, more than 200 new books from the genre have been published on Amazon.

“The latest batch draws on virtually every genre and trope imaginable: paranormal shifter romances, paranormal Mpreg romances, [Mpreg refers to the ability of some males in the Omegaverse to give birth] reverse harem romances, sci-fi alien warrior romances. There are fantastical Alpha-Omega stories featuring witches, unicorns, dragons, vampires, wolf-shifters, bear-shifters, and wolf-shifters versus bear-shifters. There are comparatively pedestrian Omegaverse romances about celebrity chefs, dentists, frat boys, bakers, bodyguards and billionaires. In a teeming multiverse of stories, the tropes are still evolving, inexhaustible.” Quite amazing.

Implications for our copyright law abound, but it does seem to me the main issue behind all this is plagiarism rather than copyright infringement, with Ms Cain having no exclusive right to the themes collectively developed in the Omegaverse.

In the isn’t-life-crazy genre, here’s an article from Electric Literature about five other plagiarism and copyright infringement suits.

See also the related Cockygate case from a couple of years ago.

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* According to the Times, the US Copyright Office has recently issued a report detailing how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act has failed to keep pace with digital developments. From 1998 to 2010 Google apparently received less than 3 million takedown notices: in 2017 alone they got more than 880 million of them. Change will be coming.