Orem romance novelist says Layton teacher plagiarized work

Friday , September 05, 2014 - 9:55 AM

Standard-Examiner staff

Utah author Rachel Ann Nunes is suing a Layton woman for alleged copyright infringement, defamation and electronic harassment, claiming the local woman plagiarized Nunes’ Christian-themed romance novel and retooled it for sale as a steamy tale including graphic sex scenes.

Nunes, of Orem, is an author of fiction stories for women, with themes ranging from romance to the paranormal. Three of her books were finalists for Whitney awards, which recognize works by LDS authors, and one, “Daughter of a King,” was named Best Book of the Year in 2003 by the Independent LDS Booksellers Association. The defendant, Tiffanie Rushton, according to court documents, lives in Layton.

A complaint filed in U.S. District Court asserts that Rushton used plot details and text from Nunes’ book “A Bid for Love” (formerly titled “Love to the Highest Bidder”) in a book titled “The Auction Deal,” which she allegedly wrote under the pen name Sam Taylor Mullens. Nunes is seeking an injunction, and monetary relief.

“We’re in the very beginning stages of this case,” said Clinton Duke, an attorney in Salt Lake City who is representing Nunes. “The defendant has been served, and now she will answer.”

Duke, by phone from Las Vegas, said notice was served at the Davis County elementary school where Rushton is believed to work. She now has 21 days to file an answer.

“She may ask for extra time, and we wouldn’t deny her that,” he said, noting that she may want to hire an attorney. “The ball’s in her court.”

The complaint, filed Aug. 29, says Nunes was informed of similarities between the two books by people asked to review “The Auction Deal.” Nunes claims she sent an email to the author, asking for an advance reading copy to see for herself, but was denied. She also claims she was given various conflicting reasons for the similarities, ranging from a now-dead man telling the defendant that “A Bid for Love” was out of print and available to use as the basis of a new novel, to a claim that Rushton was Nunes’ niece and had her permission to use the material.

There are differences between the two books, according to the lawsuit.

“In converting Ms. Nunes’s work into ‘The Auction Deal,’ defendant added several graphic sex scenes and other adult content to what was originally a Christian novel,” suit documents state.

The defamation and electronic harassment claims, according to filing documents, stem from Nunes’ belief that Rushton used multiple online accounts, under various names, to post disparaging statements about the plaintiff and her work.

Duke declined to comment on the specifics of the case, stating that it’s just beginning and more details will be released in the future.

Attempts were made to contact Rushton at work and at home on Wednesday and Thursday, using numbers associated with her name, but calls were not returned.

A blog by Nunes, dated Aug. 7, includes what is said to be a copy of an email from Rushton, defending the author of “The Auction Deal.” In it, “Mullens” is said to be a schoolteacher. Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams confirmed Thursday that Tiffanie Rushton is a teacher working in the district.

“This is a problem,” said Duke. “People who are teaching our children should be better examples, and the theft of intellectual property is still theft, and it’s still a crime.”

Nunes is an independent author, who helps support her family with her writing. To help her pay for the lawsuit, Duke said, money is being raised online at www.gofundme.com/StandingAgainstPlagiarism.

On the website, which so far has donations of more than $5,000, Nunes wrote, “I make a plea for my supporters to refrain from bullying, name-calling, or attacking the defendant online.”

When contacted by phone, Nunes said she couldn’t comment on specifics of the case. She did re-emphasize the request she made on the website.

“I do want to urge people not to bully or name-call her. I don’t want any vigilantism,” Nunes said, but added, “I would like to say thank you to the author community, and authors and readers, who have really come forward to support me and are very outraged on my behalf.”

Contact reporter Becky Wright at 801-625-4274 or bwright@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @ReporterBWright.

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