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August 2, 2018

Author Rachel Ann Nunes Wins Her Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Against an Amazon Scammer


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

In 2014, author Rachel Ann Nunes learned that her 1998 novel, A Bid For Love, had been plagiarized in its entirety by someone calling themselves Sam Taylor Mullens. Re-titled The Auction Bid, the book was being sold on Amazon, and the "author" was not only promoting it, but sending copies to reviewers.

Unfortunately for the plagiarist, some of the reviewers had read Nunes's book. Although the plagiarist had switched the narrative from third to first person, the similarities were unmistakable.

Confronted by reviewers about the similarities, the plagiarist did not back down. She claimed she'd collaborated with Nunes; later, she claimed she was Nunes's niece and had given Nunes the idea for the book. She began harassing Nunes, using fake identities to send nasty messages on Goodreads and post one-star reviews of Nunes's novels on Amazon. When Nunes went public about the plagiarism, the plagiarist began harassing reviewers and others who spoke out in support of Nunes. (For screenshots of this and other harassment, see Nunes's blog post.)

The plagiarist was eventually identified (thanks to sleuthing by Nunes's supporters) as Tiffanie Rushton, a third grade teacher from Utah. It turned out that Nunes wasn't the first author Rushton had stolen from. Nor was intellectual property the only thing she'd filched: parents in her school district alleged that she had also used the real names of some of the children in her class as aliases to post reviews of her own and other explicit books.

In August 2014, Nunes filed a copyright infringement complaint against Rushton in Federal court. Nearly four years later, in March 2018, Nunes won the case, with a judgment requiring Rushton to stipulate that her infringement of Nunes's copyright was committed "willfully," and making Rushton liable for the maximum statutory penalty under copyright law of $150,000. Rushton was also ordered to provide and sign an apology letter, which she did (though not without a struggle).
So copyright law and the good guys prevailed--but only at a cost of a lot of time and a lot of money, not to mention untold emotional distress for Nunes. Most authors who find themselves in this position--and many will, plagiarism is a major and ongoing problem, particularly on Amazon--will not have the financial and emotional resources to take the kind of action Nunes did.

That's what the scammers count on.

17 comments :

Allen F said...

What annoys me is that everything has to say 'Amazon' for someone to think it's something of interest or something 'new' or different. A bit like taking any story you've ever read and now claiming it's different because it was done 'in space'. ;-)

This has gone on before Amazon and will continue after Amazon, right now Amazon just makes it easier to do - and also to find/detect.

Can Amazon stop something that has often gotten past trad-pub? Maybe, but at a cost, one writers may not be willing to pay. A simple computer compare of these two stories would not have triggered a warning, only someone familiar with both books would have detected it - so this one would have slipped through no matter the watches set in place. I'm glad this one was solved, but there are a lot of sneaky rats/scammers still out there.

Those watching The Passive Voice know I wisecrack about this every time some writer(s) call out 'Amazon has to fix this scam!' that every time Amazon has tried to 'fix' something we then hear writer(s) crying 'Amazon blocked/banned me/my book and I wasn't doing anything wrong - Honest!'

The ease to do for writers is ease to do for scammers, and anything done to make it harder for scammers must also make it harder for those writers. How many would still be interested if the payout was lower - or if it took months instead of hours for a new ebook to show on Amazon after the writer hits the 'done' key?

JOHN T. SHEA said...

A dreadful tale, but with a more definite resolution than most. Thanks for this account, and the links, particularly about Amazon's reluctance to deal with plagiarism even after it has been clearly reported to them.

Pat Dilloway said...

It seems like a lot of work to rewrite the book. If you're going to that much trouble, why not just write your own book? Something noted in the recent "stuffing" scandal on Amazon is that they make money off these scammer's books, which explains why they're so hesitant to take action. They're basically crooked cops on the take.

Inkling said...

It's not just books. Look around Amazon and you'll find third-party sellers of "genuine" items that numerous reviewers will claim are cheap Chinese ripoffs. If you're the one making the genuine product, you'll find seeking redress in Chinese courts will get you nowhere. China simply does not take the intellectual property of other countries serious. That's one reason for Trump's sanctions.

We need to fix this stealing where it is most vulnerable. For both books and other items that is Amazon as a retailer. The financial incentive to rip-off books and a host of other items only exists because it offers them a widely available platform. It's Amazon that needs adopt policies that protect the public.

Amazon already does that in one area. When you find a reseller there who's price seems too good to be true, it often is. You can usually spot them by the fact that they have almost no history as reseller. They're selling what they don't have, hoping to get away with the money. In those cases, Amazon responds appropriately, yanking the seller and refunding those who have lost money.

Amazon needs to do something similar with stolen books. It needs a team that'll compare the two books, judge which is stolen, and at the very least stop the sell of that stolen book. Authors shouldn't have to endure a long and expensive four-year court battle.

KJ Bain said...

I think I'm more disturbed by this because a teacher was involved. And to make matters worse, she basically stole her student's identities to create all this chaos. If I were a parent I'd be very upset if my child ended up in her classroom.

Mark Coker said...

Kudos to Ms. Nunes. A victory for all authors.

Allen F said...

"Amazon needs to do something similar with stolen books. It needs a team that'll compare the two books, judge which is stolen, and at the very least stop the sell of that stolen book."

Stolen as in robbery? That there is a job for the cops - not some random store.

Stolen as in copyright copying? That there is a job for the courts - the one protesting the thief might be the real thief! (It's happened before. ;-) )

And so let's demand congress pass a law that Amazon and all other resellers must vet everything sold be 'genuine' and not stolen or otherwise copied from someone else. That's what you should be doing rather than demanding one company and one company 'do something about this!'. Good luck getting it passed.

Fine, Amazon checks every single book they sell - pulling both copies of anything that looks copied until the real/true owner can be proven - that's fair - right? You get what you want. Of course until they're done with the millions and millions of a/e/books already being offered they won't be accepting anything new. So it might be a few months/years from when an indie/self-publisher hits 'done' on the Amazon website and their a/e/book showing up for sale, but that's alright if if catches the scammers - right?

And of course if you expect Amazon to do all the extra labor you expect every other a/e/book seller to do it too - right? I wonder how many of them would be run out of business if they had to do what you expect of Amazon.

Oh, and please don't suggest Amazon allow outside/third party people tell them what's 'wrong/bad' because once the word gets out that a mere 50/100/1000 shouts is all it takes to get something pulled and ffver will be killing off whatever you want for a fiver.


"It's Amazon that needs adopt policies that protect the public."

Wrong. Amazon need only set policy that keeps most of their buyers - and sellers - happy. Those unhappy will/can leave. If enough leave then Amazon 'may' change its polices.

Like that KU thingy, I see writers whine about it all the time - yet they won't leave KU! A bit like the bum that's always badmouthing a diner's food - but you can always find him there feeding his face. ;-)

Anne R. Allen said...

Yes. It is a job for the cops...to arrest retailers who sell stolen goods. They're called "fences".

Allen F said...

Ah well, as much as Trump hates Jeff and Amazon, I'm sure he'll have the DoJ going after them real soon like - just as soon as there's any evidence that Amazon is indeed acting as a 'fence'. ;-)

(Please do recall that copyright infringement isn't 'stolen goods', and is something for the courts to decide - not the retailers.)

Evans and Rogers said...

Ebooks make it much easier to plagiarize. A hard copy usually has to be purchased and read before it can be stolen, and this new generation is most likely unwilling to take the time and expense for that; crooks like an easy steal. After reading this article, I've decided to forget about publishing ebooks. So far, all of my fans prefer a book they can hold in their hand. My husband's new book contains his artwork and so it will never become an ebook. That and the price tag will make it less likely for anyone to steal his work.

Unknown said...

It shouldn't cost someone money because someone else broke the law; it's a major flaw in the justice system. The victim gets victimized twice. I'm glad she won her suit, but four years is ridiculous. The plagiarism was obvious, and it should have been settled immediately. It's not hard to find people on the net even when they set up fake accounts. I know at least three hackers that could have found this Tiffany person immediately. It's shameful that the rightful author had to be put through that because the system is so corrupted and bloated.

Anonymous said...


The sad part of this story is that even though the author won in the end, that "in the end" only came after a lot of time, money and aggravation. The law gives people the right to "seek redress" but few people have the time or money to invest in righting a wrong, especially when it may take years to put things to rights.

Unknown said...

Another problem is authors don't copyright their work through the U.S. Copyright Office. You have full rights on your book if you don't, but if you ever have to go to court, you have to have had your book copyrighted by the government. It costs $55. Well worth it.

Victoria Strauss said...

Writers have copyright from the moment they write down the words. Registering copyright is an extra step that writers can take, though only in a tiny number of countries. And the USA is the only country that requires copyright registration as a pre-requisite to taking court action for infringement. In other countries, there's no such requirement.

If you're publishing digitally, and your book is going to be available in the US, it's a good idea to register US copyright, even if you're publishing from a different country that has no registration option--because distribution is global these days. However, you don't have to do that until your work is published. There's no need to register unpublished work (despite what anyone may tell you to the contrary).

For more on copyright--including some prevalent copyright myths--see the Copyright page of Writer Beware: https://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/copyright/.

Kit Prate said...

It's not just self-published authors. Not that long ago, Cengage Publishing purchased a trilogy from a "new" author for their Five Star western line. The "author", JD March conned the editor into buying fan fiction that had been written for the TV series "Lancer", which was the creation of Sam Peeples, (The IP now belongs to Quentin Tarantino; who purchased it from Sam's widow, Erlene.) The books were promoted heavily on Amazon, Western Writers of America recognized the author with a Spur nomination, and True West Magazine named the woman "Best New Author". All this after "Lancer" fans pointed out the fact the work had been previously published on a Lancer fan fiction site; and all the author had done was change the names of the characters and the location of the ranch.

Amazon reviews pointed all of this out after the first book was published. Ceagage had bought a three book deal; and they published the remaining two books. A fourth book in the series -- self published -- has been recently put up on Amazon.

Amazon bears some responsibility here. The reviews posted to the site after the first book appeared should have been investigated, and the books should have been pulled. Stealing is stealing; and plagiarism is theft. I am happy to see that Ms. Nunes prevailed.

Scott Slotterbeck said...

It is not an imposition to ask Smazon to investigate claims of plagiarism.

Michael Edits said...

I used to say I wouldn't mind having my stuff pirated because at least it would mean I have readers. But after reading about this nutter, I've changed my mind. Don't be stealing my stuff!

 
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