Photo: Rob Carr, AP
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NEW YORK (AP) — Best-selling novelist Nora Roberts is suing a Brazilian writer for copyright infringement, alleging that Cristiane Serruya has committed “multi-plagiarism” on a “rare and scandalous” level.
In papers filed Wednesday morning in Rio de Janeiro, where Serruya lives, Roberts called Serruya’s romance books “a literary patchwork, piecing together phrases whose form portrays emotions practically identical to those expressed in the plaintiff’s books.” Citing Brazilian law, Roberts is asking for damages at 3,000 times the value of the highest sale price for any Serruya work mentioned in the lawsuit.
“If you plagiarize, I will come for you,” Roberts told The Associated Press during a recent telephone interview. “If you take my work, you will pay for it and I will do my best to see you don’t write again.”
Roberts added that she would donate any damages from the lawsuit to a literacy program in Brazil.
In a telephone interview Wednesday with the AP, Serruya called herself a “fanatic” of Roberts’ work. But she denied copying her and said she had not received notification of any lawsuit. Serruya added that she often used ghost writers for parts of her books and “could not guarantee that no part was copied” by them.
Serruya said she is using software to analyze her books.
“My books are big. In a book of 120,000 words it’s difficult to know how many supposedly came from a work of Nora Roberts,” she said.
Serruya’s novels, all apparently self-published, include the series “Shades of Trust,” ”Shades of Love” and “Ever More.” The court papers cite six Serruya books for including lifted passages: “Royal Love,” ”Royal Affair,” ”Unbroken Love,” ”Hot Winter,” ”Forever More” and “From the Baroness’s Diary.” The lawsuit alleges Serruya copied passages from Roberts’ “Unfinished Business,” ”River Ends” and “Whiskey Beach,” and includes examples of close similarities between their books. Roberts’ suit alleges that Serruya has copied passages from dozens of other authors too.
Lawyer Saulo Daniel Lopez, a specialist in authors’ rights, said a case like this can take 5 to 10 years to be decided in Brazilian courts. If plagiarism is proven, Serruya could be forced to pay from the proceeds of her books, Lopez said.
“The indemnification could be high percentage wise because Roberts, a world renowned writer, could allege having suffered a lot of moral damage,” he said.
Roberts also criticized Amazon.com for not being more vigilant about the books sold on its site. Roberts and other authors have complained that Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited e-book subscription program, for which royalties are based on how many pages are read the first time the customer reads them, is an incentive for unscrupulous writers to quickly throw together material from other sources.
“Amazon didn’t find any of this,” Roberts said to the AP of Serruya’s books, noting that she had been tipped off by readers and fellow writers. “And that strikes me as a problem.”
As of earlier this week, most of Serruya’s work had been removed from Amazon, although many books remained available on Barnes & Noble.com, Google Play and elsewhere. In a recent statement to the AP, Amazon said that it takes “violations of laws and proprietary rights very seriously.”
“We use a combination of teams of investigators and automated technology to prevent and catch the vast majority of bad actors who attempt to violate our policies before they publish,” the statement reads. “In the rare instance where one gets through, we investigate and remove violating books. Additionally, all Kindle product pages contain a link for anyone to flag suspicious titles and the team investigates all titles that are flagged.”
Serruya has faced allegations from several other writers and even inspired the Twitter hashtag #CopyPasteCris. In February, author Courtney Milan titled a blog posting “Cristiane Serruya is a copyright infringer, a plagiarist, and an idiot,” and cited numerous passages from Serruya’s “Royal Love” that closely resembled Milan’s “The Duchess War.” Serruya apologized on her Twitter account, and called allegations she had plagiarized “distressing.” She has since left Twitter, and the Romance Writers of America has withdrawn “Royal Love” from consideration for the RITA award for best fiction. (The prize is named for the RWA’s first president, Rita Clay Estrada).
Allegations that Serruya copied from Roberts emerged around the same time. In correspondence shared by Roberts with the AP, Serruya emailed Roberts’ publicist, Laura Reeth, insisting she would “never intentionally plagiarize anyone” and blaming part of the problem on ghost writers.
“I made a mistake,” she wrote in February. “I was fooled by some ‘mentors’ and ‘coachers’ who told me that ‘More, more, more, fast, fast, fast.'”
In an email back to Serruya, Roberts demanded that she “immediately, unambiguously, acknowledge — without excuses” her “unauthorized taking” and “immediately and permanently remove” every novel in question. Roberts told the AP that she decided to sue after Serruya failed to respond.
On Wednesday, Serruya told the AP that Roberts had sent her a “rude email.”
“I’m not a girl or a donkey,” she said.
Roberts is one of the world’s most popular and prolific authors, with hundreds of millions of copies sold worldwide. She was initially known for romance books, but also writes mainstream fiction and publishes crime novels under the penname J.D. Robb. On her blog, Roberts has repeatedly attacked Serruya and strongly hinted that she would sue.
“She’s a blood leech sucking on the body of the writing profession,” Roberts wrote last weekend. “Arranging for a truckload of salt to dispense with her has been taking up a lot of my time, energies, sanity. Hopefully, once that’s in place the frustrating and infuriating distraction of her will fade, at least a bit.”
On her web site (https://www.crisserruya.com), Serruya is described as a late bloomer, having worked as a lawyer for more than 20 years before she “decided to give writing a go.”
“And — amazingly — it was just the piece that was missing from the puzzle of her life,” her biography reads. “Now that she’s hooked, she can’t free herself — and doesn’t want to be freed.”
Roberts has taken legal action before. In 1997, she sued the popular romance writer Janet Dailey. Dailey, saying she under “immense stress” because of her husband’s health problems, acknowledged that her novels “Aspen Gold” and “Notorious” included ideas and passages from Roberts’ books. The case was settled out of court and Roberts donated the damages awarded to Literacy Volunteers of America, now ProLiteracy.
Marcelo Silva de Sousa in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.
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