Black cat fight

It's goth girl vs. goth girl™ in a strange copyright case

Published May 27, 2009 4:28PM (EDT)

So you know that black-banged, brooding "Emily the Strange" mall-goth emo™-girl icon who shows how cool and alt- and counterculture she is on a Web site whose top link is "SHOP"?

A short while back, a blog focusing on visual rip-offs in art (and others before it, I believe) noted  that Emily -- designed in 1991 for a sticker promoting skater clothier Cosmic Debris -- looked an awwwwful lot like a character named Rosamond in the 1978 children's book "Nate the Great and the Lost List" (one in a beloved, and extant, series). Right down to the bangs, right down to the black-stockinged legs, right down to the cats. And in one case, right down to the placement of said cats around said legs -- and even the accompanying text. 

"There's nothing more boring to her than copying everyone else," reads Emily's bio. Huh! No wonder she's brooding. 

But here's the really funny part, as in funny-strange: The Emily people are suing. Yes, the Emily people, and no, they were not transported back to 1977 when Ben Linus moved the island. Apparently, there's an Emily movie in the works, and now the producers (who are clearly watching "The Watchmen") want to preempt a copyright claim by Rosamond's venerable creators, illustrator Marc Simont and writer Marjorie Sharmat. This is not an uncommon legal gambit where copyrights are concerned, but it's easy to see why it's leaving a lot of folks scowling like alienated skater grrls.

To be sure, all "goth girls" will have something -- something non-copyright-able -- in common. What, Emily should wear Lilly Pulitzer? But Cosmic Debris states (PDF) in its defense (well, offense) that "the 'Goth Girl' look has been a common element in creative works for decades," citing Wednesday Addams, Lydia Deetz and Elvira. Right, except they don't look Exactly. Like. Your. Character. (And Elvira is, wow, so not a girl.)

If anything, one hopes the controversy, should it get enough ink, might inspire broody-moody girls to maybe spend less of their goth bucks on Emo Kitty Lip Balm and more on old, adored copies of "Nate the Great."

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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