SALT LAKE CITY - A Utah author says a schoolteacher plagiarized her Christian romance novel, added graphic sex scenes and passed it off as her own.
In a case she says brings to light plagiarism in the burgeoning world of online self-publishing, Rachel Ann Nunes of Orem filed a federal lawsuit in August against a Layton teacher, Tiffanie Rushton, who she says cut and pasted large sections from an electronic copy of her book.
Nunes wrote "Love to the Highest Bidder" in 1998 about two art dealers, one from New York and the other from California, who meet while competing for an Indian Buddha statue and fall in love.
It was first published by a Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-oriented publisher. After the book went out of print, Nunes got the copyright and put out a slightly revised e-book version on Amazon.com with the name "A Bid for Love."
Rushton's manuscript, "The Auction Deal," is about an art dealer who goes to Beverly Hills to bid on a rare sculpture and meets a successful gallery owner from Chicago, according to an online description. The full e-book has been pulled from the site goodreads.com.
Nunes claims the book, which was not published in print, was written by Rushton under the pen name Sam Taylor Mullens.
"All the characters are the same, lines throughout and the plot. It is really hard for me to read it," Nunes said Tuesday. "I feel like my life has been stolen."
She named a character after one of her seven children, making the added sex scenes particularly disturbing.
Rushton did not return phone and email messages seeking comment, and no attorney has yet been listed for her.
Though the story had been altered, Nunes says the details were recognizable to bloggers who Rushton asked to review an advance copy of the manuscript.
Nunes' book, for example, contained this line in chapter one: "For six years, he had put up with her overt stares and innuendos because she was not only his boss and sole owner of the gallery but also his friend."
Rushton's first chapter included a similar line, according to a screen shot posted online by Nunes: "For ten years, I'd tolerated her overt stares and innuendos because she was part owner of our gallery and always seemed to find opportunities with new clients that helped the gallery that I could not."
Rushton appeared to be recasting the niche Christian story Nunes wrote into a book that would appeal to a mainstream romance reader looking for a more erotic tale, she said.
"It really is the thing that sells the most," said Nunes, who has written 47 books in the last 18 years.
In email exchanges between Rushton and Nunes, Rushton said the idea came from a friend who died in a car wreck and that she didn't want to reveal her real name because she is Mormon and her extended family wouldn't approve of her writing, according to the suit.
Nunes said she's confirmed Mullens and Rushton are the same woman, though she declined to provide details, citing the lawsuit. A spokesman for the Davis School District confirmed that Rushton has been a third-grade teacher since 1993.
After their exchange, Nunes says negative reviews began popping up on Amazon.com, Facebook and other websites. She alleges that Rushton created seven different profiles in an attempt to discredit her.
Nunes is seeking at least $150,000 in damages as well as attorney's fees in the suit, which was first reported by the Ogden Standard-Examiner. Since filing it, Nunes says she's heard from other authors whose work has also been copied from their e-books. The books are often pulled when the plagiarism is identified but later reposted under a different name.
"It's so much easier ... online, you can be so anonymous," she said. "How many authors can afford to take someone to court? That's your life savings, that's your whole future."