I want to know how the CW can come out with a new show, The Vampire Diaries, that is such a blatant rip-off of Twilight? How can they get away with it?
—kLa, via the Answer B!tch inbox
Actually, if anyone has ripped off anybody in the whole overwrought melodrama high-school vampire genre, it's Stephenie Meyer. Her concept, whose freshness falls somewhere between a four-month-old cucumber and a shambling corpse, debuted in 2005. That's 14 years—years—after an author named L.J. Smith published the first in the Vampire Diaries series.
So will we see any lawsuits over this? Well...
Not likely. First of all, given how long the Twilight series has been raking in the cash, Smith would have sued by now if she were feeling, well, bled dry. And even if she did want to sue, she probably wouldn't get very far, attorneys tell me.
First, when it comes to creative works, an idea can't be copyrighted, only the specific expression of the idea. In other words, small hobbitlike people aren't protected by copyright law, but Lord of the Rings sure is.
"The idea of a human girl who falls for a boy who is a vampire leans more toward idea than copyright," says attorney Jeff Glassman of the law firm Ervin Cohen & Jessup.
So a creative work has to share more than just a few similarities before a judge will even begin to suspect copycatting. To continue the hobbit analogy: I could write a story about little people in a long-gone era and no one would bother me.
But if I wrote about little people who live under hills, and who have elves and wizards for friends, and who team with said elves and wizards to go dump a mean piece of jewelry into a volcano, then you can bet that the Tolkien estate would eventually come calling.
"It could be that [one vampire story] only copied three or four elements of the other, but they are not the most key aspects of the story," explains Rami Yanni, a partner at the entertainment law firm Greenberg Glusker.
Indeed: Twilight takes place in Washington state, the other in Virginia. In Twilight, the boy takes the initiative, pressing suit with a doormat of a girl named Bella. In Vampire Diaries, the girl pursues the boy. And so on.
Exactly when a story crosses over from homage to clone is tricky, and it's usually determined in court, by a judge.
Another vampire-genre author, Jordan Scott, has in fact sued Meyer, accusing the Cullens creator of plagiarizing a book called Nocturne. Ah, vampire books. Can't get involved without at least a little bloodsucking.
See some tasty bloodsuckers in the TV's Hottest Vampires gallery