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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Is Emily the Strange a Copycat?

Posted By on Tue, Dec 9, 2008 at 8:00 AM

By Lauren Smiley

What if Emily the Strange -- the sullen girl-power icon from

Berkeley-based company Comic Debris who claims her own clothing line, comic

book series, and soon, a motion picture -- isn't all that odd at all? Accusations

are flying around the blogosphere that Emily, whose emo pre-teen angst and message

of non-conformity ("There's nothing more boring to her than copying everyone

else" reads her on-line bio) may be, in the very creation of her dark soul, a


Observers have noticed that Emily bears an uncanny likeness

to Rosamond, a character from the "Nate the Great" children's book series beginning

in the late 1970's by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. Rosamond is also a pale girl

with long black hair, a short dress, and an entourage of black cats. If that's

not enough to cast suspicion on Emily's hyped individuality, there's an

early illustration of Emily that even has the same text.

Emily's long-time illustrator Rob Reger responded to the

allegations in a letter posted on the finger-wagging blogs last week stating that he adapted the character from the skateboard design of a Santa Cruz-based artist named Nathan Carrico in the early 1990's. Reger states that he learned about Rosamond years

later. "We phased out the original skateboard design upon learning of the

Rosamond character and worked with the creative team to further distinguish

Emily and her universe," Reger writes. "Regarding copyright law, there is

legally nothing wrong with sharing or implementing a unique variation on a concept."


But the belated explanation may not be enough to quell the

tide of disillusion. Even Emily's Wikipedia entry notes the similarity, citing

the blog entries as the source. Emily the Strange publicist Jill Beaverson said

the company has never been contacted by the book's publisher or author about

the issue. "We've done nothing wrong....Honestly, we were rather hurt by [the allegations]."

It's unclear if the likeness is actually a copyright

infringement, says San Francisco

attorney Lizbeth Hasse, who represents RDR Books, a

Michigan-based publishing company currently being sued by J.K. Rowling in New

York Federal District Court to block the release

of the company's "Harry Potter Lexicon." The copyright holder would have to

prove that Rosamond has a "substantial similarity" to the Emily of the last

three years due to the statute of limitations. The fact that the girl with the cats and nearly identical text may meet the "substantial

similarity" bar is a moot point since that Emily graphic was apparently discontinued

years ago, she says.

"I'm not sure a waif with black hair is original enough to

necessarily say it's an infringement of that earlier character," Hasse says.

"That's not as similar as it may seem at first blush."

The book's publisher, Random House, did not return calls for

comment. Reger's publicist says he's out of the country, but that he agreed to

tell us "the real story" upon his return next week. Stay tuned. 

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Lauren Smiley


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