Writer Emma Cline has been sued by her ex-boyfriend, writer Chaz Reetz-Laiolo, over her critically praised novel, The Girls. Reetz-Laiolo’s lawsuit claims that Cline plagiarized her novel using spyware installed on his email and other accounts. Cline filed a countersuit, describing Reetz-Laiolo’s allegations as the “ludicrous” acts of an “abusive ex-boyfriend.”
The Associated Press reports that the two lawsuits, filed in a San Francisco court on Wednesday, “made public a bitter fight that has been churning behind the scenes for years.” Reetz-Laiolo contends that Cline installed spyware on a computer that she subsequently sold him. According to Reetz-Laiolo’s 620-page lawsuit, Cline accessed his email and other accounts, mining All Sea, a screenplay he was working on for The Girls. He alleges that Cline “systematically surveilled his private email obsessively over a period of years.” Reetz-Laiolo is represented by David Boies’s high-profile law firm Boies Schiller Flexner. Boies recently made headlines for his involvement in concealing Harvey Weinstein’s ongoing abuses of women. The firm did not return a request for comment.
In Cline’s countersuit, she acknowledged that she had used spyware to look into Reetz-Laiolo’s infidelity while the pair were still in a relationship. Her lawsuit, however, contends that she no longer had access to the spyware once the computer was sold to Reetz-Laiolo. She further contends that Reetz-Laiolo’s suit is “baseless,” arguing that there is no evidence of plagiarism as alleged by her ex-boyfriend. The suit contends:
At the outset of his campaign, Reetz-Laiolo manufactured a tortured claim of copyright infringement based on an allegation that a few brief snippets scattered through the early drafts of Cline’s highly successful debut novel The Girls originated with him. For many of the snippets, Reetz-Laiolo has been unable to provide any documents showing that they originated in his writings (often because the snippets do not actually exist in any of his writings). With regard to the few brief phrases or facts that do appear in his work in some form, these are not subject to copyright protection. Reetz-Laiolo has continued to press this claim despite the fact that the challenged snippets do not appear in the published version of The Girls.
According to Cline’s lawyers, the lawsuit is a thinly-veiled attempt by an “abusive ex-boyfriend,” to “extract millions of dollars by intimidation and threat, all under the auspices of frivolous claims of copyright infringement, a long-stale complaint that Cline ‘invaded’ his privacy, and a ludicrous theory that she hacked into and stole unpublished written work from his computer.” On Twitter, Cline’s lawyer Carrie Goldberg described Reetz-Laiolo as a “controlling ex-boyfriend who is using litigation as a weapon.” (Goldberg’s firm did not file Cline’s countersuit).
Published in 2016, Cline’s novel was an instant hit. Set in the late 1960s, The Girls follows 14-year-old Evie Boyd’s immersion in a California cult, with clear references to Charles Manson and his infamous family. The novel was both a critical darling and a bestseller, quickly establishing Cline has an important literary voice. According to Cline’s countersuit, Reetz-Laiolo’s claims are the result of jealousy over her success and are a groundless attempt to destroy her literary reputation, part of what the Cline’s lawsuit describes as a “two-year assault on Cline’s mental health and literary reputation.”
Cline has asked the court for $75,000 in damages as well as dismissal of copyright claims. Reetz-Laiolo, who also named publisher Penguin Random House in his lawsuit, asks the publisher to cease printing the book, as well as unspecified damages. Random House did not return a request for comment.
Update: In a statement to Jezebel, Random House said they “stand by” Cline and her book. “We firmly believe that there is no basis to the plagiarism claims made by Mr. Reetz-Laiolo and we look forward to presenting our arguments in court.”
Update, 12/1: In a statement to Jezebel, Reetz-Laiolo’s lawyer, Ted Normand, said that his firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of Reetz-Laiolo, Kari Bernard, and Kristin Kiesel. “Plaintiffs believe that Ms. Cline used spyware to break into their online and personal email accounts to read years of intimate emails, steal unpublished creative material, and ultimately plagiarize that work in a manuscript of the novel The Girls. That manuscript was submitted to Random House and garnered an advance of more than $2 million.” Normand added that Cline, “does not dispute that she repeatedly hacked into our clients’ accounts for years,” and that they are “confident the Court will quickly find in our favor.”