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Best-selling German author accused of plagiarism

By Luke Harding

BERLIN, APRIL 7. One of Germany's most successful authors, Frank Schatzing, was yesterday facing claims that he lifted large chunks of his latest blockbuster from the Internet.

His book, The Swarm, is an apocalyptic eco-thriller which tells the story of how a mysterious undersea being known as Yrr incites the natural world to revolt against humans.

It has been an extraordinary success, selling more than 700,000 copies in Germany. It has even been credited with saving the lives of several German holidaymakers who fled to safety after reading its vivid description of how the tide goes out before a tsunami.

Yesterday, however, a German biologist accused Schatzing of ``plundering'' much of the material used in the book from his scientific website, www.ozeane.de. Thomas Orthmann, a marine biologist and journalist, claims that dozens of passages in `The Swarm' have been lifted ``word for word'' from his research.

``I began reading the book in January after someone gave it to me for Christmas,'' he told the London-based Guardian newspaper yesterday from his home in Hamburg.

``At first I started thinking, `This is uncanny. This is the kind of stuff I could have written'. After reading a couple of hundred pages it dawned on me that I had in fact written it.''

He added: ``I can see how it can happen. Mr. Schatzing admits that he did most of his writing in the evening because of his busy schedule. There aren't many people to talk to in the evening. Instead you pour yourself a nice glass of wine, click a couple of times with the mouse, and download everything you need. It's a great book. But the experience of reading was diminished after I realised this was my work.''

The biologist is now demanding euros 15,000 in compensation and has said he will take the case to court unless Mr. Schatzing apologises.

So far, the author has refused to pay up. He has, however, agreed to acknowledge Dr. Orthmann in the next edition of his book, which is due to appear in Britain and the U.S. later this year, and is the subject of lucrative negotiations over Hollywood film rights. Yesterday, Mr. Schatzing's publisher, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, denied that their author was guilty of plagiarism.

- Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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