LOS ANGELES — A lawsuit alleges that author Emma Cline plagiarized parts of her bestselling novel “The Girls” from an ex-boyfriend by using spyware to access his email and other accounts, claims that Cline vehemently denies.
The novelist said in a countersuit that the plagiarism allegations are the “ludicrous” acts of a man who is jealous of his ex’s success and are part of a two-year assault on her mental health and literary reputation.
The clashing lawsuits, filed Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco, made public a bitter fight that has been churning behind the scenes for years.
Chaz Reetz-Laiolo, Cline’s former boyfriend, also names Penguin Random House in the lawsuit, saying the publishing house knowingly released plagiarized content when it published “The Girls.” Cline’s countersuit says the alleged plagiarism amounts to a few stray phrases and passages that stemmed from the couple’s shared lives, conversations and reading of each other’s work when they were both aspiring writers who were romantically involved starting in 2009.
The debut novel, released in June 2016, tells the story of a 14-year-old girl who gets involved in a dark 1960s cult that closely resembles the Charles Manson family. The book got glowing reviews and was on The New York Times’ best-seller list for 12 weeks. Cline has been long been regarded as a promising voice. She received a master’s degree in writing from Columbia University, was published in the Paris Review while still in college and in 2014 won the Review’s Plimpton Prize for Fiction, given to emerging authors. Random House reportedly paid seven figures for “The Girls” and two other planned books and Cline’s Manson novel was so anticipated that producer Scott Rudin acquired film rights before it was published. (Cline’s lawsuit states the film rights have since lapsed, due in part to her dispute with Reetz-Laiolo.)
In a statement Wednesday, Random House said that it “stands by” Cline and her book. “We firmly believe that there is no basis to the plagiarism claims,” the publisher said.
Reetz-Laiolo also has been published in the Paris Review, along with Harper’s, Salon and other publications. The lawsuits come a week after Manson, who inspired numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, died in prison at age 83.
Reetz-Laiolo alleges that Cline sold him her computer with spyware installed, which she used to gain access to his email and other private accounts, stealing from drafts of screenplays he was writing for scenes and language she used in “The Girls.”
His suit says Cline used the access to “systematically surveil his private email obsessively over a period of years.”
Cline’s countersuit acknowledges that she used the spyware to look into Reetz-Laiolo’s infidelity during their relationship years ago, but says she had no access to the software once she sold the computer. The suit says it is baseless to suggest she used the software to plumb his writings for her own.
The suit says she’s attempting to “put a stop to an escalating campaign by her 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.”
It asks a court to declare that she has not infringed any copyright and seeks damages of at least $75,000.
Reetz-Laiolo’s lawsuit demands that Penguin Random House stop printing further copies of the book and asks for unspecified damages.
Associated Press writer Michelle A. Monroe contributed to this report from Phoenix and AP National Writer Hillel Italie contributed from New York.