Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Strange Case of the School Teacher by Day, Plagiarist by Night

They say everyone has a book inside them.....and as authors, we hear many readers tell us they've always wanted to write a book. My advice? I think they should. Go for it! Your work may only be read by your mother or friends or family who are sure to like it, or you may find a serious calling to write. You may discover a talent and develop it with time and hard work and sometimes a little bit of luck. You never know until you try. 

It's not certain who said it first, but some authors throughout history have insisted that writing is easy. You just "open a vein and bleed."  

One modern wannabe author tried to find an easier way to get published, but in doing so she committed multiple felonies. 

Plagiarism has never been easier. With books in digital format, an aspiring plagiarist can cut and paste, change a word or phrase here and there, change the title and cover, and sell it as their own original work.

Rachel Ann Nunes, a prolific and successful author of clean romances, who is also a friend of mine, was recently targeted by one such enterprising individual. With some technical assistance, the alleged plagiarist was identified, and through correspondence with Rachel, gave numerous implausible explanations for how Rachel’s book ended up with a new title, cover, and author, as well as some added smutty scenes. In an effort to stop the plagiarist, Rachel did not threaten legal action. Not at first. She just wanted it to stop. She requested that the books be taken down and all profits made by the plagiarist refunded. No deal.

And this is where it gets even more interesting. The alleged plagiarist established at least twenty “sock puppets” or false identities on book review sites and then systematically trashed Rachel’s work with vicious one-star reviews in an effort to discredit Rachel and her work,in retaliation, because the criminal behavior had been revealed. 

The person in question has still refused to cooperate in any way. Now, in court documents, the alleged plagiarist has been identified as an elementary school teacher with twenty years of teaching experience and credentials in special education, reading, and English as a Second Language. On the school’s website she looks like the teacher we all want our children to have---devoted, competent, experienced, current in her own education, and a happily married mother of three children.

Newspapers and television stations ran the story. Again, Rachel insisted, all she wanted was for the plagiarism and smear campaign to stop.

When the names of the teacher's false identities were posted on the internet by concerned authors who hoped to expose the situation and protect other writers from this individual’s schemes, parents at her school were shocked to see that the teacher had, in some cases, used the names of her own students---their children. Rachel and other authors who had posted about the situation then received threatening letters from these parents, who demanded that blogs be taken down and all mention of the children’s names be eliminated, and threatened legal action. Well, this is the Internet, and once posted, nothing really dies.

And then, in another truth-is-stranger-than-fiction twist, it was found that those indignant, threatening letters originated from none other than---you guessed it---the alleged plagiarist/teacher herself, and not from parents at all.

Soon another author came forward, having been alerted to plagiarism of his own work. This particular writer, a decorated military veteran, had written about combat action in Afghanistan. It was the first time he had even been able to relate certain details relating to his horrific experiences. The writing exercise was part of a workshop designed to help veterans cope with post traumatic stress disorder. 

And the person who apparently took his work, changed a word or phrase here and there, added numerous profanities, and passed it off as her own, thus victimizing the traumatized veteran a second time? You guessed it.


Finally, Rachel saw no other recourse than legal action. 

According to blogger and author John Doppler, who has investigated and documented many aspects of this case, the alleged plagiarist has been charged with multiple counts including: “copyright infringement, defamation, false light, injurious falsehood, harassment, false advertising, and deceptive trade practices. If the suit is successful, she faces statutory damages of $150,000.00, plus damages for each sale of the infringing work....the compensatory damages could be tripled due to the nature of the offenses. Additionally," Doppler writes, "the Plaintiff's attorneys have requested a string of injunctions prohibiting (Defendant) from using fake accounts and identities to promote herself, prohibiting further disparagement of Rachel or Rachel's works, prohibiting her from using any name other than her own online, requiring a retraction of all her attacks on Rachel, and publicly admitting her plagiarism." 

And he concludes, "It's likely that (Defendant) will declare bankruptcy to avoid paying the judgment, which makes the injunctions critical."

This individual’s actions have caused significant pain, loss of time, and financial stress for those authors she has targeted. Will the wronged authors realize a financial settlement? It's doubtful. They're not after the money. There probably isn't any money to be had.The defendant has yet to respond to the formal charges, though one legal deadline has passed. 

Many authors have joined fundraisers to help defray Rachel’s legal expenses. 
Check Rachel's website to participate and to see how their efforts are helping the cause:

These offenses are felonies. It’s a mind-boggling case. Yet Rachel has requested that no one contact the defendant or harass her in any way. She only wants the crimes to stop. Because repeated overtures to deal with the situation out of court have simply been met with more lies and attempts to discredit her, she felt there was no other option. She is an author who simply wants to protect her good name, her good books, and her readers.

If you'd written a book, which takes time, talent, courage, and sacrifice, and someone stole your work and smeared your reputation, what would you do?

Read John Doppler’s article here:

Google “Rachel Ann Nunes” for updates and news articles concerning this case, and check her website  It may take a few clicks to find what she's posted lately about her legal issues. She's all about the books she's writing and the loyal fans who read them. 


Angela Hartley said...

Great post, Janet! I don't personally know Rachael, but I've been following the case. As a writer, I can't think of anything more horrifying than what she's through. I'm praying for a quick resolution for everyone effected.

Stephanie Abney said...

Thanks for the update - it boggles my mind to see what lengths this woman has gone to in order to try to cover her tracks. Hoping for a speedy resolution. Pretty tragic, really (and for the plagiarist's family as well).