Home » Copyright/Intellectual Property » The Cristiane Serruya Plagiarism Scandal

The Cristiane Serruya Plagiarism Scandal

24 February 2019

From Plagiarism Today:

After 22 years of practicing law, the Rio de Janeiro-based [Cristiane] Serruya decided to take up then pen. After after 6-7 years of writing, had churned out more than 30 works and had one of her short stories published in a best-selling collection.

However, in less than 24 hours, all of that was gone.

As of this writing, her site is down, her books, though online, likely won’t be for long and all of her social media presences, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, have either been deleted [or] have fallen silent.

Like so many authors before her, Serruya had become the center of a rapidly evolving plagiarism scandal. It’s a scandal that’s left her reputation in complete tatters and made her a pariah among romance authors and readers alike.

However, what’s so amazing about this story isn’t just how quickly Serruya’s downfalls was, but her handling of it. It’s a rare situation where a plagiarist, once caught, managed to make the scandal worse not by denying the allegations, but by admitting to something that many see as even worse.

. . . .

The first salvo was fired by fellow romance author Courtney Milan. Milan, herself a lawyer (specifically one that has worked in intellectual property) , posted on her blog a lengthy teardown of Serruya entitled, “Cristiane Serruya is a Copyright Infringer, a Plagiarist, and an Idiot.”

The post highlighted over a dozen passages where she alleged that Serruya had copied from her in Serruya’s book Royal Love. The passages ranged from short sentences with moderate rewriting to whole multi-paragraph sections that were near verbatim.

. . . .

. . . .

In short, she said that she was not responsible for the plagiarism. Instead, she put the blame on an unnamed ghostwriter she hired from the site Fiverr, a site that’s best known for enabling the hiring of low-cost freelancers.

Though some had suspected a ghostwriter much of the time the scandal was unfolding, others have remained skeptical, noting that Serruya has failed to identify who the person is or provide any proof, other than to say their Fiverr account is now closed.

But, even those who do tentatively believe Serruya often struggle to see why this confession is better.

Link to the rest at Plagiarism Today

PG notes that avoiding plagiarism in the first place is, by a huge margin, better than any sort of mea culpa, stonewall, etc., after you have been accused of plagiarism.

However, PG was musing about how he would react if an author who had committed plagiarism came to him for legal assistance.

As an fyi, in a prior life, PG was appointed to represent a variety of criminal defendants who had committed much more serious misdeeds than even the worst plagiarist has. Public Defenders had not yet come to that part of the state where he was living and the local judge regarded the acceptance of such cases, even without any likelihood of compensation, as part of the duty an attorney owed to the public in return for the privilege the state had given him/her to practice law. PG agreed with the judge and didn’t fuss when one of these cases came his way. He also acted as an unpaid assistant prosecuting attorney a couple of times for the same reasons.

One more point – sometimes the advice a client requires is a combination of legal and practical business recommendations.

So, with that background, how would the visitors to TPV suggest PG advise an author/client who had committed plagiarism on more than a small scale?

Copyright/Intellectual Property

46 Comments to “The Cristiane Serruya Plagiarism Scandal”

  1. Funny how an accusation of plagiarism only hurts certain authors. Lynn Hagen (Siren) got caught stealing from another m/m author and her publisher paid to hush the story up. Lynn Hagen is right back to writing as if nothing ever happened.

    Santino Hassell (another m/m author) did something even worse and was nominated last year for an award in the m/m community.

    I could go on and on about how rampant plagiarism and worse is in the m/m community, but I honestly doubt anyone would care.

    • Is the scale the same?

      Dozens of authors and 30 books ‘sampled’?

    • I didn’t even know about these scandals and I’ve published some stuff in that genre. It’s pretty likely there are just too many people that don’t hear about it but who *would* care if they knew. I certainly do. I ended up reading a bunch of stuff last night just because of your post that was just mind-boggling. I had no clue.

  2. Place a gun with one bullet in the chamber and leave the room. They’ll know what they should do next.

    There’s the law, and there’s justice.

    Put it another way. She is alleged to be a lawyer who has practice her profession for more than two decades. She was inspired to create stories. She cobbles together books from other books, and hires drones to turn them into books.

    Real neophyte writers don’t to that. They write stories, learn about the profession, find mentors, read books and practice their craft.

    There is not one book out there that teach you to steal other writers’ works, slap your name on it, and go forth. She didn’t operate on misinformation. She decided, from the start, to be a thief.

    “She” (assuming she exists) stole other people’s minds and imaginations, their hard work, there personhood.

    Most likely, she’s beyond the reach of the law. She stole and stole and stole for years, and would have continued to steal if someone hadn’t spoken up.

    And there’s no reason to believe that she’d stop herself from doing it again.

  3. Nora Roberts is seriously angry about this. Her blog has three different posts about it right now.

  4. Assuming it was a ghostwriter, I wonder if the individual has been selling the same or similar works to multiple customers. And how loudly would those “authors” be shouting ‘Plagarism’.

  5. Recommend total denial followed by a search for a doctor willing to diagnose Dissociative Identity Disorder. Look among heavy prescribers of oxycontin.

  6. Anonymous1 makes a very good point, though I’m not familiar with m/m, there’s plenty of complaints about scammers, book stuffers and the like.

    There have been a lot of accusations of plagiarism in the Romance Genre lately.

    Is it that people can’t produce enough content to game Amazon’s KU algorithm without resorting to more tricks?

    This scamming is something David Gaughran has been writing about for quite awhile. Nothing’s been done, to date. Mostly because it’s just the small fish that have been the most effected.

    But La Nora — she’s got clout and she’s got the money to make something happen.

    Amazon might ignore everyone else, but they can’t afford to ignore Nora Roberts.

    • There’s those out there that can’t actually write – but see others making money doing it and think they should be able to make money off it too. And when they discover that they can’t they try to cheat/game the system.

      And then they get caught and it must be someone else’s fault because they’d never do anything wrong …

    • Amazon might ignore everyone else, but they can’t afford to ignore Nora Roberts.

      Sure they can. Books are a minor part of Amazon’s business, and no single vendor in any product category matters that much. She’s a vendor like a zillion others.

      • Well, yes, but Amazon cares about how it is perceived in the media. Nora Roberts has a massive platform to shout from, and most news outlets will carry this story if she keeps worrying at it.

        • I think we tend to over estimate the influence of books and authors. Amazon is usually getting slammed from one direction or another about how bad it is. Warehouses. NYT. Fake goods. Reviews. HQ2. And now copied romances.

          A copied book is a big deal in book circles, but the public really doesn’t care if one romance writer copied from another. They didn’t give a hoot about Douglas Preston and nine hundred of the finest authors in the English language, and they don’t care about these author problems.

  7. A very interesting question, and not one I can answer without doing some unpaid work, which I am not inclined to. Whilst US Copyright law and Australian copyright law have many similarities they also have many differences. Even when I was practising law I could advise only on the latter and would not presume to advise upon the former.

    But, for what it’s worth, I will make some strictly amateur comments. Most importantly, Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement are different concepts. Though there is significant overlap, there are also significant differences. Most notably off the top of my head appropriating another author’s idea may be plagiarism, but not copyright infringement. Also, of course, simple attribution is sufficient to avoid the tag of plagiarist, but is not enough to save one from copyright infringement unless one also has permission.

    I would want to analyse the books with an eye to copyright infringement rather than plagiarism. If passages have been copied verbatim, which it appears has happened in this case, it appears that there has indeed been infringement. There would also seem to be some question as to whether some or all of the literary works concerned can be classified as “derivative works” and hence infringing as a whole. To determine this would involve US legislation and Case Law with which I am not overly familiar. Indeed, I can imagine if I’m wrong on this point a US lawyer with a knowledge of copyright might have a good laugh at me. I would think that damages should be much higher in the case of a whole work infringing rather than a few passages, though once again claim no particular expertise.

    An interesting exercise but not one I am inclined to spend much time on.

    • Most notably off the top of my head appropriating another author’s idea may be plagiarism,

      How about boy meets girl. Parents are enemies. They run into lots of problems, but their true love sees them through. Happy ever after.

      • Agree 100% Terrence. Using another’s idea may be plagiarism. Or not, depending of course on the circumstances. Plagiarism and copyright infringement are very different concepts and not co-extensive.

        This definition is from:

        https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/plagiarism

        “The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.”

        • I think that “verbatim” is required.
          Once they start paraphrasing it becomes transformative and mostly fair use. At least in the eyes of the court.

          Legal standards are usually the lowest bar of behavior. Morality and ethics tend to be higher bars to clear.
          It’s a limbo dance.

          • @ Felix

            “It’s a limbo dance.”

            LOL. How low can you go? 🙂

            • Lower than any rational person would guess.
              “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”

          • It was verbatim passages, from several different books and authors.

            The passages were long enough to have the readers looking through books of favorite authors.

            Current totals on #copypastecris as of this morning: 51 books, 34 authors. via Nora Roberts

  8. I left out from my above post the requirements that the copying be “substantial” but need not be verbatim, which I presume also applies to the US law.

    It is not necessarily true that a client accused of plagiarism should just fall on their sword. However, even if not legally liable, their reputation may well never recover.

    • Fair use allows transformative citing so paraphrasing 99% of a work can arguably be parody. Especially if the writing is really bad.

      As for falling on the sword, why would they?
      Anybody shameless enough to plagiarize isn’t going to be fazed by tsk-tsk’ing.

  9. I was brought up not to steal or lie. I can’t think of a single thing that would excuse the massive theft and lying you would have to do to plagiarize multiple books.

  10. elwoodpdowd@gmx.us

    I think the most mystifying thing to me about this whole #CopyPasteCris kerfuffle is why somebody capable of writing a novel, even an objectively awful one, would accept offers via Fiverr to do so rather than simply self-publish it on their own. Is the expected compensation for unknown self-published authors now so bad a few hundred dollars via Fiverr is more than they’d expect to make otherwise?

    Second, I think the RWA needs to do a bit of soul-searching here, considering that #CopyPasteCris not only had a book submitted for an award, “she” was listed as a judge in some category or other. To my mind this is an extremely bad look for the organization as it implies endorsement of the sort of slimy tactics employed by this individual.

    Finally, reading through Nora Roberts’ blog entries on this topic, she throws out a quip about “legitimate ghostwriters” and how this business undermines them. Ignoring “autobiographies” of out of office politicians and industry titans as well as some of the schlockier self-help books out there, does such a thing as a “legitimate ghostwriter” exist? Especially in fiction? Possibly if we’re talking about the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, but beyond that? I mean, if I’m purchasing a book by John Smith I’m assuming it is in fact by John Smith and not Mary Jones. Or am I just too old-fashioned?

    • “I think the most mystifying thing to me about this whole #CopyPasteCris kerfuffle is why somebody capable of writing a novel, even an objectively awful one, would accept offers via Fiverr to do so rather than simply self-publish it on their own.”

      Perhaps that’s it right there – she wasn’t actually ‘capable of writing a novel’ so she took shortcuts/cheats.

      All in the name of money.

    • I think the most mystifying thing to me about this whole #CopyPasteCris kerfuffle is why somebody capable of writing a novel, even an objectively awful one, would accept offers via Fiverr to do so rather than simply self-publish it on their own.

      Because objectvely bad novels don’t sell. Fivver is real money.

    • does such a thing as a “legitimate ghostwriter” exist? Especially in fiction? Possibly if we’re talking about the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, but beyond that?

      Yes. In fiction there’s a such business as a “book packager,” aka a “book producer.” They hire writers, aka “write for hire” to write books (usually to an outline). One obvious way you’ll recognize them is if the byline on the cover is “created by” instead of “By Author.” I knew the Sweet Valley High series wasn’t written by Francine Pascal, because it said “created by Francine Pascal.”

      This isn’t a hard rule, though, as “Carolyn Keene” and “Franklin W. Dixon” can attest. I usually see these kind of write for hire type situations in shared worlds (think Dungeons & Dragons) or licensed properties (Star Trek) and movie tie-ins, etc. If it’s a YA or kid’s series, there’s a good chance it’s a write for hire, although they usually have a By Author byline rather than a Created By. The real clue will be the copyright page: is the book copyrighted by a human, or a production company? There you go.

      It’s really the only kind of ghostwriting I’d consider doing, just because there’s a professional at the other end of it (so no messy notes to decipher and so on). There are only so many hours in a day, after all. In fact, I actually did come close to doing one for a YA book, but the packager didn’t get a publisher for that book. I probably would have used a pen name for it, though.

  11. More than one of the ghostwriters has declared that they were presented with pages of sentences/phrases and told to cobble that into a story.

    The GWs have no way of knowing those were stolen from other people’s books. Their polishing of the phrases to make them more coherent in context altered them enough to make the plagirism less detectible.

    This all seems clearly to have been planned from the get-go by the accused.

    Re: legitimate ghostwriters, that’s a real industry:

    * politicians, celebraties, athletes, etc.
    * family memoirs
    * stories in a fictional universe: Star Trek, Star Wars
    * continuations of series: Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys
    * in support of businesses (“How to do X” for the “X Services” corporation)

    Nothing wrong with any of that. Some are credited (Robert Parker’s Spencer continuations, Felix Francis’s Dick Francis continuations) and some are not.

  12. On the one hand, if you’ve decided to plagiarize, then targeting Courtney Milan and Nora Roberts appears to make sense for a brief moment because they’re successful.

    On the other, they have more fans to spot what you’ve done, and they have the wherewithal and resources to squish you.

    So maybe just write your own books?

  13. “The RWA needs to do a bit of soul-searching here, considering that #CopyPasteCris not only had a book submitted for an award, “she” was listed as a judge in some category or other. To my mind this is an extremely bad look for the organization as it implies endorsement of the sort of slimy tactics employed by this individual.”
    Romance Writers of America is a member-run organization with a small paid staff. In my experience as a longtime RWA member and former board member (but I don’t speak for RWA), any member can submit (“nominate”) his or her book to be considered for an award. This implies no endorsement of any kind. And any member can sign up to serve as one of a number of preliminary judges.

  14. I am surprised that plagiarism even exists today because it is so easy to detect. I’ve been plagiarized. When someone tipped me off that they thought I had been copied, I found the culprit with a few minutes of googling and passed it on to my publisher to do the dirty work of contacting the culprit.

    There are a number of software packages for detecting plagiarism, used primarily, I understand, by colleges and universities for detecting student plagiarism. It doesn’t take AI to detect a copied passage. I suppose the problem is different for fiction, which would require deeper searching, but I’m still surprised. Someone might be able to monetize a service that would certify a book as plagiarism free.(Have to think that one through some.)

    My editor told me that he runs plagiarism checks routinely, not so much because he suspects his authors of intentional plagiarism, but because the checks are so easy and the publisher wants to avoid possible accusations on passages that might appear to be lifted. I’ll have to admit that his comment made me think harder about using hackneyed examples in my work.

    • @ Democritus Jr.

      “I am surprised that plagiarism even exists today because it is so easy to detect.”

      Well, there’s no shortage of stupid people in the world. And more of them are being created every day.

      Plagiarism = stupidity + vapidity + ignorance.

  15. Nora Roberts has had this happen to her before. She gets quite upset.

    http://fallintothestory.com/plagiarism-then-and-now/

    So she’s made a promise to put her name and clout to work:

    http://fallintothestory.com/not-a-rant-but-a-promise/

    And this little gem has a marvelous ending:

    http://fallintothestory.com/let-me-address-this/

  16. A quick visit with Duck Duck Go seems to indicate that verbatim copying is not required under US Copyright law. The concept applied is apparently called “substantial similarity”, which seems to be self-explanatory to at least some extent. Nora Roberts in her blog indicated that she would sue Serruya if what she called the theft of her work reached the bar of infringement.

    Another interesting consideration. I wonder if the work appropriated from any one author is sufficient to warrant action. Even more problematic if the copying is considered on the basis of each work of each author. There may be case law which considers and perhaps resolves these issues. Then again, large scale organised plagiarism from multiple authors and works may well be largely a feature of Amazon’s ecosystem in which case the Courts may not yet have considered similar cases.

  17. So, you pay someone $5 to write a novel and rather than spending three months to a year actually writing a genius work of original fiction, said cunning freelancer simply cuts and pastes an existing novel, then runs find & replace to change a few details! Crikes. Who could have ever guessed that’d happen? In my genre (SF/F), I’d really hope that $5 would at least get me something on the level of a William Gibson novel, or maybe a James S.A. Corey book to put out there. I guess you can’t trust anyone these days.

    • You’re more likely to get a Battlefield Earth.

      (In this case, though, the ghosts were given the plagiarized passages upfront. The problem was they used them verbatim instead of paraphrasing.)

  18. Battlefield Earth? Phew, that’s okay then. The Scientologists are a peaceful faith never known to sue anyone for any reason at all.

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