Cassandra Clare and the Chamber of Not-So-Secret Plagiarizing


Shanthi Guruswamy

Before Cassandra Clare became popular for her hit series, The Mortal Instruments, she was popular for other reasons — specifically for writing fanfiction in the Harry Potter fandom.

At the time, Clare was famous for her Draco trilogy (novel-length fan-fiction titled Draco Dormiens, Draco Sinister and Draco Veritas), I was but a young child of 11, treading the dangerous waters of fan-fiction — Harry Potter fanfiction, specifically. So I was well-acquainted with the Draco trilogy. Back then, though, she went by “Claire.”

This Harry Potter fan-fiction trilogy began with characters Harry and Draco Malfoy accidentally switching bodies, eventually finding themselves in a love-triangle with Hermione Granger. In the next installment, Hermione is kidnapped, leading Harry and Draco to team up to rescue her. Almost a million words (and a million fans) later, Clare deleted every single fan-fiction from her history before beginning her career as a professional author.

I remained Clare’s fan until 2006, when I ventured into forums. (Side note: don’t venture into forums.) Most of the forums themselves have been deleted now, but I remember the general consensus: Cassandra Clare plagiarized.

She didn’t just copy names or places. She copied entire paragraphs of work, with hardly any amendments, and passed them off as her own — at least, she never sourced these works, thus giving fans the false impression that it was all original. She never bothered to
correct them.

Clare’s mega-hit fan-fiction had an almost cult-like following, creating long-lasting references including the Draco In Leather Pants trope, which, according to, is when “a fandom takes a controversial or downright villainous character … turning him/her into an object of desire and/or a victim in the process.”

She famously plagiarized entire passages from Pamela Dean’s The Secret Country, witty quotes from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Blackadder. She borrowed phrases coined by authors including, but not limited to, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. She claimed it was paying homage to the authors, but without citations, fandom remained skeptical. Toward the end of 2006, all of this blew over.

Until March 2007, when she came out with the first The Mortal Instruments book, City of Bones.

Now, fandom has a good memory. Fandom remembered Clare (who had dropped the “i” from her pen name to hide from Google searches) and her history of plagiarizing. Many old fans read The Mortal Instruments with wariness, and I was one
of them.

I began to read, and after feeling a strange sense of deja-vu, it dawned on me. Clare hadn’t bothered coming up with new characters. She’d recycled her old characters from her fanfiction — including repurposing Draco as Jace, the protagonist. According to The Daily Dot, “an entire involved backstory of the main character Jace is a word-for-word copy of the backstory Clare gave Draco in her fanfiction; and the final line of the book is — wait for it — a line that was originally used to describe the deep love that Harry and Draco had for
one another.”

Here is the line below, in its entirety:

“[Jace] made a sound like a choked laugh before he reached out and pulled [Clary] into his arms. She was aware of Luke watching them from the window, but she shut her eyes resolutely and buried her face against Jace’s shoulder. He smelled of salt and blood, and only when his mouth came close to her ear did she understand what he was saying, what he had been whispering before, and it was the simplest litany of all: her name, just her name.” –The Mortal Instruments, Cassandra Clare

Clare wrote a fanfiction … of her own fanfiction.

It turns out, she also plagiarized the concept of a “darkhunter.” There was already a series called Dark Hunter. The series’ author, Sherrilyn Kenyon, finally sued Clare on Feb. 9, 2016. Kenyon owns the copyright for the terms “Dark-Hunter,” “Dream-Hunter,” and “Were-Hunter,” and her fans immediately informed her of Clare’s appropriation of the term “DarkHunter.” Clare removed “Dark-Hunter” and replaced it with “Shadohunter,” removed “hunter” from the title and published the book as The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.

The lawsuit continues to outline the similarities between the two works here: “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 humankind 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.”

Here’s the kicker though: The Dark-Hunter and Shadowhunter series are so near-identical that Clare’s own publisher, Simon & Schuster, accidentally printed 100,000 copies of a Shadowhunter book … with the Dark-Hunter mark on the cover. Many thousands of the copies of this misprinted book were destroyed, but according to Entertainment Weekly, “thousands of Shadowhunter books including the Dark Hunter marks on the cover have now been sold and substantial commercial confusion has resulted.”

Cassandra Clare, you may think we’ve forgotten, but let me quote Buffy to you (hey, just like you did back in the day): “Seize the moment, ‘cause tomorrow you might be dead.”