Monday, September 8, 2014

Plagiarism Update

Tiffanie Rushton aka Sam Taylor Mullens
Sam Taylor Mullens, the woman caught plagiarizing author Rachel Nunes, has been identified as a Utah school teacher by the name of Tiffanie Rushton. She's been served with a summons to appear in federal court. Some of the things she's been charged with include:

* Copyright infringement
* Defamation
* False light
* Injurious falsehood
* Harassment
* False advertising
* Deceptive trade practices

Evidently she faces statutory damages in the neighborhood of $150,000.00, if the case if successful. That's in addition to damages for every sale of the infringing work, damages, and attorney’s fees.

It's also my understand that the schools take quite a strong position on plagiarism. She could lose her job.

Through the course of this whole thing unfolding, people kept talking about sock puppets. In case you don't know what that is, it's when someone creates false online identities and uses those to post about products, in this situation, books.

Lucy Evans
Jennifer [REDACTED]
Macey [REDACTED]
Abigail [REDACTED]
Abby [REDACTED]
Abigail [REDACTED]
Jennifer [REDACTED]
Mercedes [REDACTED]
Emma [REDACTED]
Bethany [REDACTED]
Moonshine and Books
Simple Book Reviews
Elle [REDACTED]
Gibby [REDACTED]
Hailey [REDACTED]
Hannah [REDACTED]
Ky [REDACTED]
Rylee [REDACTED]
Sierra [REDACTED]
W [REDACTED]
Aubrey [REDACTED]

It seems Rushton was also soliciting manuscripts under some of these, so she could review them. This is a cautionary tale about authors giving out their manuscripts in the hopes of getting reviews and ending up being plagiarized.
Plea - Rachel has asked that people not attack Tiffanie Rushton. It's in the hands of the court, and we should let it play out there.
John Dopp wrote a great article about the whole situation here.

David Farland also wrote a post here. He has suggested that he might stop buying indie books now because the issue of sock puppets seems to be so prevalent. I think that's a bit of an overreaction. I don't use sock puppets to boost my reviews, and I know a bazillion legitimate indie authors who don't use sock puppets. David Farland is a hybrid author now, as is Rachel Nunes. Should she be punished twice?

What do you think? Are you so put off by this whole situation that you might not buy indie anymore?

ETA: It appears that Rushton has used the names of some of her students for her sock puppets. A parent has requested that I remove the last names to protect the children. I have done so.

74 comments:

  1. How did she have time to create all of those identities?
    Glad for Rachel this is finally getting taken care of.

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    1. Well, she's a school teacher. Maybe she did it in the summer.

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  2. This isn't an indie issue, it's an issue of unethical behavior. And it's not limited to indie authors or even the publishing industry; fake reviews are epidemic among all sectors of the business world.

    I don't hear anyone saying that they'll stop eating at their favorite restaurant because of phony reviews....

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/23/technology/give-yourself-4-stars-online-it-might-cost-you.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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    1. I'm with you there, John! Thanks for sharing the article.

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  3. With the courts it will probably still be years upon years, but hopefully she will win in the end. How can a teacher think she will get away with it? Really? Deserves everything she gets.

    Sock puppets are everywhere and if you have the right program it takes 5 minutes to make 50 profiles, in a day you can make 1000 emails on autopilot, can even make 25,000 twitter accounts in a day. Then add 25,000 fake followers to each one, and poof, now appear legit. And most of this can be done with no work at all, plug stuff into a program and let it go. The cat stays in the know haha

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  4. Um. Wow. That is really scary that she had so many identities and was so bold about stealing another author's work. The internet sucks sometimes.

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    1. And it's not just this book, L.G. She had two other earlier releases that she pulled as soon as people started wondering.

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  5. OMGosh! I'm so going to check! This is truly alarming, but also so disturbing. I don't understand why people can't just be who they are. I'll share this. Thanks for compiling those names.

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    1. Yes, definitely check. I will certainly question who I might send an ARC to.

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  6. It's good there's stiff penalties for this to deter people from doing this. Didn't know about the sock puppets. Thanks.

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    1. I'm glad too. At first we were being told there wasn't much that could be done--and that's just wrong.

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  7. I'll still buy from indie authors, especially ones that I already know and trust. I may look into authors I don't know a little more though. While I am sure there are some unethical authors out there using sock-puppets, I don't think its the norm. I think most would want to earn their reviews, good or bad and are truly writing for the love of writing. At least I hope that's the case.

    I am concerned about Rushton teaching young children. It is my understanding that she teaches third graders, such an impressionable age. Rushton has shown a lack of ethics and judgment and quite a mean streak in her bullying tactics. I would not want my kids in her class and I really hope her school looks into this and takes appropriate action.

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    1. It seems like a total disconnect, doesn't it?

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  8. Wow, amazing just how many people are involved when something this big happens. It kind of takes on a life of its own.

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    1. It does. And it's fortunate that Rachel has a lot of author associates who were willing to help dig this out.

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  9. Oh wow… Donna, this is seriously unreal… all this sock puppet stuff… is this for real??? Why would someone do this?!?!? It just… it defeats the whole point, I think… the whole point of this journey of WRITING period. Just… wow.

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    1. Sadly, that must not be what Tiffanie "writes" for.

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  10. Indie or not people plagiarize all kinds of works. Refusing to buy a whole kind of books is overreacting big time. I am however glad she was caught.

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    1. I agree. It's not like traditionally published authors haven't been caught inflating their reviews with sock puppets.

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  11. nothing surprises me any more in today's world

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    1. And that has to be one of the saddest commentaries about this whole sad situation.

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  12. I'm gobsmacked that this could even happen, but I agree with the comment above that this IS NOT an indie issue; this is an issue of theft.

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  13. I don't rule out buying anything. Except for anything 'written' by this woman and her various aliases. Thanks for keeping us up to date on this, Donna.

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    1. I guess Tiffanie figured she was safe by choosing an older book and in a different market, assuming (incorrectly) that people who read erotica don't also enjoy a clean read.

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    2. I agree. I read lots of genres, but this woman is a great example of why I don't read erotica. No morals. Now I'm going to have to hunt down on my friends' list and make sure none of her masks are on there...shudder.

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    3. You're free to read what you like, but it's unfair to paint all erotica authors as having no morals. I'm friends with several authors who write erotica and they follow this and all plagiarism cases closely. Many have contributed to Rachel's Go Fund Me to cover her legal expenses. Personally, I don't read "clean" romances like Rachel writes, but that's beside the point. I've donated and advocated frequently on her behalf. It's not about the content, it's about authors' rights.

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    4. Spanglemaker, you make a valid point. Writing erotica is not illegal. Plagiarizing, however, IS illegal.

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    5. Spanglemaker, I haven't seen anything that implicates erotic authors as the problem. It's only plagiarism. The erotic issue comes from taking a book that was specifically designed to be NOT erotic and making it so. And in Rachel's case, it's even worse because the character that was changed was named after one of her children.

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  14. People think they can hide behind the anonymity of the internet, but this case will be a great example to anyone thinking of doing anything this unethical. This plagiarist certainly went all out while doing wrong. That's quite a list.

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    1. Yes. And another of her books has just been outed as plagiarized, but with a different writer.

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  15. I think if we ditch all indie authors we're just shooting ourselves in the feet. Both of them. What we CAN do is choose not to stoop to Sock Puppety tactics.
    So THAT'S why some people have thousands of people on their blogs and pages. I never knew. I just thought I was somehow much less popular...;op

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    1. Haha. I follow a lot of people on FB on my personal account, but a lot of them are from my old CastleAge days.

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    2. Actually, most of the sock puppets on blogs are not the blogger trying to boost comments. Advertising and SEO companies use sock puppets to create links all the time.

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  16. Holy moly, that's crazy that she had that many alias or sock puppets, I'd never heard that term before. I don't believe it's an indie problem either - I'm not sure how that person came to think that. :)

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    1. I'm with you there, Kim. I doubt the sock puppet problem is unique to indies.

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  17. I had never heard of sock puppets. Thanks for the heads up. I'm glad this woman got caught. How sad, though, that she would go to so much work to plagiarize when the same amount of work might have produced something of her own. I also agree with Kath: It's sobering to think of this woman teaching youngsters. Certainly her lack of moral integrity must get reflected in other areas of her life (like the classroom).

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    1. I wonder if there will be pressure on the school district to let her go now the story has hit mainstream news. ABC has something online about it yesterday.

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  18. Wow. Just, wow. I went to Rachel's blog just now and read all about it. Crazy! I'm surprised I didn't hear about this sooner. Definitely some major copying going on. Very sad and mind-boggling. And crazy about the sock puppets thing!

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  19. I'm watching this unfold with interest. Keep reporting. :-)

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

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  20. This makes me ill!! My daughter and her classmates are all aliases. She used her own students names. Not ok!!

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    1. No I'm not. Actually as parents we are wondering if you would delete last names to protect our children. All very young minors. Thanks so much!!

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    2. Kristi, Donna just told me, and I am SO sorry that your children were also victims. We looked in the yearbook and sure enough, you are correct. Obviously, third-graders were not on Goodreads reviewing that type of book--or harassing me.

      FYI, the accounts have disappeared now on Goodreads, but someone did take screenshots of all the accounts with the reviews of Sam Taylor Mullen's books made by the aliases, if you or the other parents need them. There are also Facebook screenshots of at least one of the more active accounts using one of the children's names. It is gone currently, but they have been published and unpublished several times in the past six weeks, so it might come back with the media dies down.

      Again, I'm so sorry, but I am glad that this is being stopped for the sakes of everyone involved.

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    3. I just learned of this, and I've been pacing the room for the last ten minutes in fury. Every time I think this woman cannot possibly stoop any lower, new information surfaces and I have to adjust my expectations.

      Kristi, thank you for coming forward with the information. I'll be following Donna's lead and redacting the names on my own blog as well.

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    4. Kristi, I am so sorry to hear children were also victimized in this mess, I run the Authors United Against Plagiarism and Cyberbullying Facebook page. I will follow Donna and John's lead and delete the last names on all posts. Again, I am so sorry.

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    5. Thank you all for your courtesy in protecting our children!

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    6. This thing just gets more and more shocking. I don't know you Kristi, but my daughter goes to school where Rushton teaches and I have been just sick about it since I found out a couple of weeks ago. I'm so glad other parents are finally aware of what's going on. At least I hope there are more who are. I felt very strongly that people in the community needed to be made aware, but just didn't know how to do it. I sure wish the school district would do more about this situation.

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  21. Sock puppets are a staple in online advertising these days. Rather than use an employee's identity to create links, etc, a company will create a sock puppet. All the social media marketing and SEO firms do this, which is where I learned about them. But legitimate marketers are also very careful about how these fake personas are used as they can get a company in trouble with Google and social media sites if abused.

    As far as losing her job, she'll have to face an investigation by the school district first. Not pleasant. But they may not be able to take action on the plagiarism until there is a ruling on the court case. Innocent until proven guilty. However - using her students' names to create aliases, that one they may have to act on sooner. Especially if the parents of those kids find out and throw hissy fits.

    I think this is something all authors, indie or otherwise, can be a victim of. The reason plagiarists target indie authors is because they figure an indie author won't have the resources to take it to court and that they won't get caught if they publish as an indie. But the plagiarized version could just have easily been sent to a publisher with the rational that someone who publishes steamy romances wouldn't recognize something from an author known for clean romance.

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  22. I know a person who works for a Utah school district is a position of authority, and she said there are two kinds of action a school can take. One would be the criminal which is up to the courts. The other is betraying the public trust--which happens when an adult is acting in lieu of the parent, which teachers do. This is grounds for dismissal.

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    1. They did dismiss her, but sent out a notice saying that she left because of knee surgery. The betrayal I feel at their cover-up is huge.

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    2. It still blows my mind, Rachel, that they would cover it up. Either she used those children's names and email or she didn't. It's not hard to find that out.

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  23. I just got done reading Sgt. Weston's wife's letter, and my stomach was sick as I was doing so. Now, now... Her own students' names. If I was feeling sick before... Now it's even worse. She plagiarizes a wounded veteran, she plagiarizes a celebrated author and adds steamy sex to a story that isn't hers, and then she uses her own students' names as sock puppets. What new lows will she stoop to? Dare I even think? Heaven help us all.

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    1. I wonder if she had any idea when she stole these what the impact would be on the real authors.

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    2. I've been wondering that myself. The whole situation from the first time I heard about it from Rachel is horrifyingly fascinating.

      First of all, I doubt that Rushton's the kind of person who would break into someone's house and physically steal things. (Of course, I hesitate to say that. This woman sinks to new lows almost every time I log on.) Yet she seems to have no qualms about taking a person's very real intellectual property and trying to pass it off as her own.

      She can't claim that she was ignorant or naïve. She is over forty, and has a Masters. She knew what she was doing.

      Personally, I think what was going through her head, was that she wasn't hurting anyone. She thought she would not get caught, and the real authors wouldn't be hurt, because they'd never know. She probably thought the same thing about her young students. They were eight years old; they wouldn't be navigating the internet for many years, and certainly wouldn't be going to amazon and goodreads at least until they were teenagers. She probably thought that "borrowing" their names to boost the popularity of an erotic romance would not hurt them personally. (Again, her thoughts, not mine!) She was successful, for a short time, in stealing from Sgt. Weston. In her mind she probably justified it, because she took a small piece from him, and not the whole book. Then, I think, she got bold, and took pretty much the whole book from Rachel, thinking all the while, that Rachel's audience and her own audience are two completely different groups of people who would never overlap, and thus, she'd never get caught.

      But then she did get caught.

      She knew she was in trouble then, because if she'd been honestly mistaken, she wouldn't have gone to such effort to duck and dodge and hide, and throw blame this way and that, and shield herself with her army of sock puppets while weaving more and more elaborate lies.

      I don't think she really comprehended when she started doing all this, how badly she would hurt people, but I think that it's only because she didn't let herself think about it. If she had sat herself down and forced herself to think about it, I think she would have understood that stealing someone's story (especially a terribly traumatizing true life story) and trying to pass it off as her own would hurt that person if he found out about it. But again, she fooled herself into believing that she'd never be caught.

      So far, I haven't seen any remorse from her in any of her comments. All I've seen are vicious attacks, casting blame elsewhere, and firm denials. I can only hope that she can get to a point where realizes that using her little students' names as sock puppets really was an extremely bad thing, that she sees Rachel Nunes and Sgt. Weston as real people who have been deeply hurt by what she's done, not faceless entities on the internet, and fully comprehend the very real damage that she's done.

      I do not envy her. For her to make up for what she's done, she needs to face herself. And to fully face herself right now, with all that she's done, would be excruciating.

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  24. Thanks, Donna, for the great article!

    And *this* is why I don't send ARC's out randomly. IF I send them, it's to someone I know and trust - not only for an honest opinion but because I've interacted with you online previously and know you're a real person.

    Reviews are not *that* important to me to have my hard work blatantly stolen by someone else's unethical behavior. I'd rather wait for them to come in naturally or send them to people I know - IE: have signed up for a release blitz or blog spot - than chance this sort of thing happened.

    I feel for Rachel (supported her gofundme effort even) and pray that this will settle quickly. It'll obviously go in her favor, there's no denying the evidence, but still. I'd hate for her to wait years and years...:D

    It's also a warning to all of us. Beware who you interact with online. Do your research people. Take five minutes to look at their friends before accepting that friend request or sending off an ARC, it might just save you years of heartache and headache if you see you and they have *no* mutual friends...or see no other reviews on their blog site. And listen to your gut. It's there for a reason. If it tingles, there's probably a reason.

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    1. Yes, Margaret. I always check out the friends on FB but also what they're posting. I've received a couple of friend requests from people I thought I knew but whose accounts had been hijacked. If you think you're already friends with someone you're getting a friend request, check. You might be.

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  25. This makes me sick, but as you noted, boycotting indies is an overreaction. It does much more harm than good.

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    1. Like traditionally published authors can't do sock puppets and buy reviews.

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  26. Why would you want to punish Indie authors because a criminal was stealing from them? How does that even make the slightest bit of sense? Why would you even suggest such a thing?

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    1. I wouldn't suggest it, and it surprised me when author David Farland suggested it in his post. Especially since he's joined the ranks of hybrid authors.

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  27. Dang! She wasn't even creative enough to create names?

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  28. Seriously! My heck. There are name generators online.

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  29. I can't even describe how much this burns me up. We authors have it hard enough as is without creeps like this preying on us.

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  30. Please delete anything that has to do with kids. Leave that up to investigators. Names of our kids keep popping up and the only way it will stop is if the threads are deleted. It's been going on long enough. Please be done with our kids. It's tearing up our neighborhood.

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    1. Done. My heart goes out to all of you.

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    2. Donna- This "K" also left comments on John's blog and he was able to verify that this was coming from Tiffanie's home computer.

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    3. I heard from a parent whose children attended the elementary where Tiffany teaches. She said not only did she use the children's names, she also used their school emails. Tiffani supposedly only used names and emails of students who transferred to a charter school and no longer attended this school. How she thought this was still okay is beyond me. I would think the email use would be grounds for dismissal.

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