A lawsuit involving online erotica raises a new question: can tropes from a fan-generated genre like the Omegaverse be copyrighted? @xanalter reports on a strange intellectual property dispute. https://t.co/yliBGeYpqL— The New York Times (@nytimes) May 23, 2020
-Omegaverse (or A/B/O) as a concept originated as a fanfic trope from a prompt on the Supernatural kinkmeme. It grew from there and spread beyond fanfiction to become a popular niche sub-romance/kink genre for original fiction (or fanfic with the names scrubbed off ala 50 Shades).
-In 2016, Addison Cain became a published author when a small publishing house published her repurposed adaptation of her fanfic. Her first book takes place on a post-apocalyptic earth where the remaining humans are separated into dominant Alphas, neutral Betas and submissive Omegas. The romance revolves around a leader male Alpha and a captive female Omega who engage in lots of lupine-esque sex. After positive reception, she printed more, and her series made $370,000 according to Blushing Books, her publisher at the time.
-In 2018, an author going by the penname Zoey Ellis was also publishing her own fantasy romance series, Myth of the Omega which also featured Alphas, Betas, Omegas and wolf like sex where Alpha men are compelled to fuck Omega women because of their pheromones, Omegas try to suppress their scent, nests are built, humans go into heat, they claim each other with neck bites, knotting, rutting, and more.
-Cain pushed her publishers to send C&Ds to Ellis and get her books pulled from major retailers, citing copyright violation. “Book three needs to come down too. I don’t want her to make any more money off this series.” Though her publishers did get Ellis' work pulled, they weren't completely on Cain's side. “The problem is as you say you do not own Omegaverse. I don’t know what mechanism we can use to shut her down completely as an author, unless YOU want to try to trademark Omegaverse. (Which we might be able to get.)”
-Ellis sued in retaliation, seeking $1.25 million in damages for defamation, interfering in her career, and filing false copyright infringement notices. “I couldn’t see how a story I had written using recognized tropes from a shared universe, to tell a story that was quite different than anything else out there commercially, could be targeted in that way. There are moments and scenarios that seem almost identical, but it’s a trope that can be found in hundreds of stories [...] As a new author, I was building momentum, and that momentum was lost. Everything would have been in question, my integrity would have been questioned, my ability to write and tell stories — all of that would have been under threat if I didn’t challenge these claims."
-Part of Ellis' defense is that “no one owns the ‘omegaverse’ or the various tropes that define ‘omegaverse.’”. This case is a first in that there are no prior legal cases dealing with this particular issue about whether fanfiction tropes (which are essentially built by a community of writers) could be protected by copyright. Under IP laws, particular phrases can be copyrighted, but copyright doesn't extend to literary tropes or commonly used plot points (i.e. the butler being the killer in a murder mystery).
-At this current time, Blushing Books has parted ways with Cain after conceding that there was no infringement on Ellis' part and having to pay damages to Ellis and her publisher. Cain currently self-publishes and said of her original copyright claims that "[it] has nothing to do with trope, it has nothing to do with Omegaverse, it has to do with plot similarities” but when asked to cite specific examples, she suddenly can't read. “It was hard for me to read them side by side, honestly, because I felt very violated.”
The first seven minutes of this video are also an overview of what Omegaverse is.