Ex-Boyfriend Claims Novelist Stole His Work

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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CopyrightA novelist’s ex-boyfriend is claiming that she used spyware to get into his private emails and that she plagiarized material that he wrote.

The pleadings in the copyright infringement suit read like the plot of a thriller.

The Girls

As the New York Times reports, Emma Cline’s 2016 novel The Girls was a critical and popular success.

The New Yorker review described it as

a story of corruption and abuse, set in 1969, in which a bored and groundless California teen-ager joins a Manson-like cult, with bloody, Manson-like results.

The novel sold for seven figures to Random House and spent three months on the New York Times best-seller list. The book was named as a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Award.

Cline was only 27 when the novel was published.


Cline’s ex-boyfriend, Chaz Reetz-Laiolo, was 33 when he started seeing Cline, who was 20. He alleges in his complaint that Cline used spyware to steal material from his emails and a draft screenplay on his computer.

Cline countered that the allegedly “stolen” phrases were minimal and in some cases only a word or two — such as “heavy rear” and “Doomsville.”

Cline countersued Reetz-Laiolo, saying that his suit was motivated by jealousy and an ongoing effort to extort money from her.

The countersuit complaint alleges that

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.

The countersuit admits that Cline used spyware to read her boyfriend’s emails, but says it was because she was afraid he was unfaithful to her, and not to copy his work. Among other things, Cline discovered that her boyfriend had emailed himself a copy of her private journal.

Abuse Allegations

In addition,

The countersuit details alleged abusive behavior by Mr. Reetz-Laiolo, including a claim that in 2012, after reading a text message on [Cline’s] phone that he interpreted as flirtatious, he held her down on the bed and choked her so hard she could not breathe, and later threw her belongings into the street.

Cline also says that Reetz-Laiolo threatened to expose embarrassing personal information about her and reveal naked pictures of her he had obtained when they were a couple.

According to the Times,

An earlier draft of Mr. Reetz-Laiolo’s complaint included details about Ms. Cline’s personal life, taken from her old computer, which she had sold to him when they were still friendly. The complaint included screen shots of sexually explicit messages and details about her sexual fantasies, and threatened to expose her as the author of an erotic story she published online under a pseudonym.

Cline told the Times,

What should have been a happy milestone — publishing my first novel — has turned into a yearslong nightmare perpetrated by someone I believed I had finally escaped from.

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