Do we live in a post-plagiarism word?

outrage cat plagiarismToday I read two articles.

The first is the plagiarism case indie author Rachel Ann Nunes raised against Tiffanie Rushton, an elementary school teacher. Tiffanie allegedly took Rachel’s self-published book, added some sex scenes and republished it as her own.

Rachel has already spent $20,000 in court fees and is using to get the word out so she can raise $100,000 extra to continue the lawsuit.

The article laments that, while traditionally published authors are backed by published with deep pockets, for indie authors there is nothing they can do.

But I’m not taken in by this sob story.

Yes it sucks.

It’s brutal to have somebody steal your work and try to sell it as theirs.

But it’s also pretty simple and easy to get Amazon to remove the book in question.

A couple of emails and Rachel could have gotten Tiffanie’s book removed from Amazon and from other online ebook stores.

So what’s the lawsuit for?


If she plans to spend $100,000 on the lawsuit, she must hope to get much more than that in damages, but is that reasonable?

Would Rachel’s books have earned over $100,000 by themselves, without the plagiarism case?

If so, why bother spending so much for justice? If Rachel’s books are making over $100,000, she could easily get a publisher who would defend her legal rights.

Is it a moral issue – the indignation and feeling that Tiffanie must “pay for her crimes”?

It seems Rachel got screwed over once when her work got stolen, but has since ruined her own life trying to rectify the event – a double coup for Tiffanie.

I’m not trying to justify Tiffanie’s actions – they are inexcusable.

I’m just questioning Rachel’s choice of response. (Unless, Rachel’s public outcry is a smart way of positioning herself and marketing – it is probably much easier for the plagiarism story to go viral than her books).


The other article I read was this one in the NY Times about a 17 year old German author Helene Hegemann. Her first book “Axolotl Roadkill” was celebrated as a tremendous debut, until a blogger announced that Helene copied whole pages from a lesser known book, “Strobo.” 

Interestingly, Helene’s book was nominated as a finalist for the $20,000 prize of the Leipzig Book Fair, and the jury knew about the plagiarism before they made their selection..”

One of the judges said, “Obviously, it isn’t clean, but it doesn’t change my appraisal of the work.”

In her defense, Ms. Hegemann says,

“There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,” 

Helene’s book continues to sell well on Amazon, despite some nasty reviews.

What does it mean?

We live in a society that embraces the theft of creative ideas. Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like an Artist” endorses heavy borrowing, and Steven Pressfield recently published an article on his blog called “Steal Without Shame.”

Of course they are talking about creative inspiration and borrowing – taking ideas and themes and remixing them – which is very different from copying whole pages word-for-word without attribution.

But then, why use the negatively-associated term “Steal” rather than something more positive?

It’s because stealing is cool. It’s revolutionary. It’s an act of violence and power.

We all do the best we can, and all that matters is success.

The German judges of the competition seem to support Helene’s viewpoint: it doesn’t matter who said it first, it matters who said it best. Maybe Helene took a good idea that was never successful and fixed it to make it truly a great work of art.

Maybe Tiffanie did the same for Rachel’s book (I’m not saying she did, these are hypothetical questions).

What do you think?

Let’s agree that it’s never OK to steal someone else’s work word-for-word.

But what about taking an indie published book with a good story that was poorly written, and taking the basic structure and retelling it better? Or are we really moving into a post-plagiarism state as the German case suggests: everything has been done and said before, and we’re all just DJ’s mixing it up in a fresh way?





About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me
  • The Rachel Nunes story is more than what you read in the one article on the subject. She did write to Amazon to take down the book, but that was not the extent of the damage. The perpetrator of this crime had several puppet accounts that she used under many different pseudonyms to defame Nunes and spin a web of lies about the whole ordeal. The stolen book in question was only the tip of the iceberg, and it appears that the woman who plagiarized the work allegedly did a whole lot more, hence the court case. It’s never as easy as black and white (take the book down, and hey, no harm no foul) because plagiarizers are flat-out compulsive liars who, if unchecked, will continue to steal and wreck other people’s careers. (I’ve been following this story for months, by the way. Lol. Can you tell?)

    I can never get behind stealing. Heck, people steal my work all the time (buy, read, and return on Amazon) and it kills me. Borrowing ideas from classics and writing an original work on ideas you gleaned from other places is a totally different story.

    • Thanks a lot for your comment! I had a feeling I was missing something. But we also tell authors all the time, “don’t engage with bad reviewers” and this seems similar. There are always crazy trolls trying to ruin your life. I’m not sure how spending $100,000 on court fees is the solution to this problem (rather than ignoring, calling them out, or publicly shaming them). Maybe I’m just too far outside the legal system, but I can’t see the benefits of a lawsuit. You can send a “cease and desist” letter pretty easily. From my point of view, the author seems like she’s trying to protect her reputation, but that’s a pride issue. If you develop your own fanbase and conduct yourself well online, you don’t need the court to “prove” that you were right all along. Unless this is about the money, but I can’t imagine Tiffanie has anywhere near $100,000, so where will the money come from? Or unless it’s about publicity – in which case this story is very good publicity, but probably not worth 100K! Again, I don’t doubt that this is a horrific situation, I would hate for it to happen to me. But I wouldn’t spend time and money trying to get it legally rectified; I would get the offending book removed and ignore the crazy person trying to rile me up.

      • There’s gotta be more to it than what we’re seeing.

  • Steve Bohne

    Boo hoo. As a photographer, I had my work stolen brazenly (by ministers, even!). I caught people red-handed ripping me off. Their response: “So who am I hurting? You got paid.”

    The courts give recording artists and movie makers real protection, authors a little less so, but photographers are the bastard step children when it comes to copyright protection. The iconic image of Obama (done in a posterized multi color work) was made from a photograph from a photographer. An artist took the image and changed it. When challenged, he stated, “I made that work completely new and different and now it’s mine.” Ahhh, no it isn’t. Copyright “protection” extends to derivative works…supposedly. Not a damn thing happened to the image thief.

    So excuse me if I can’t work up a tear for what’s-her-name.

  • chylene6599

    No. It isn’t. You are thinking of the Quran. It would be impossible to plagaize the word of the true God as it was original. Those who espouse paganism tend to forget it was God who made the pagans who made the idols that became those ancient so-called ‘gods’ of. The Egyptians Babylonians and Arabs.

  • chylene6599

    There are entire governments ours included whobsteal entire nations. They decide they have a perfect right to suck it dry of every bit of wealth all its natural resources all its rights of self autonomy send in their murderers and kill squads disguised as humanitarian intrevrntion all disguised as liberation from cruel despotic dictators who had too much oil. That is a form of plagiarism too. When anyone does something a certain group does like much the same happens to them. Look at Bill Crosby Send Mended and any Christian who doesn’t want to bake a penis shaped wedding cake.

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