Emma Cline
Emma Cline (Photo: Rex)

Emma Cline is being sued for plagiarism – so what does her sexual history have to do with it?

As she files a countersuit against her ex-boyfriend, Cline’s past is being used by his lawyers to shame and discredit her

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By Rachael Sigee on

The Girls was arguably one of the books of 2016. Emma Cline was just 25 and working in The New Yorker’s fiction department when she sold her debut manuscript – a fictionalised version of the Charles Manson cult killings. She secured a $2m book deal and became a literary darling almost immediately.

But, in the background of her success, she was fighting a lengthy battle with her ex-boyfriend, who accused her of plagiarism and spying, as well as threatening to expose personal information about her. Now, the conflict has become public knowledge, as both have filed lawsuits against each other.

Chaz Reetz-Laiolo, also a writer, claims he is owed $2bn in damages because Cline used spyware over several years to hack his email and steal his ideas. She has filed a conflicting lawsuit, countering that she has been subject to “an escalating campaign by her abusive ex-boyfriend”, who is attempting to gain financially from her success and damage her reputation.

The pair dated in between 2009 and 2010 and, as both pursued writing careers, they shared, collaborated on and critiqued work together. Reetz-Laiolo now alleges that Cline used ideas from him to write her bestseller and also accuses her publisher, Penguin Random House, of knowingly publishing plagiarised work.

The spyware that Reetz-Laiolo claims was used to steal ideas was installed by Cline on their shared computer and, according to her account, was to track his alleged infidelity and abuse and protect herself. When the relationship broke up, Cline sold the computer to Reetz-Laiolo, who claims she then continued to use it to spy on him.

Cline’s response is that the plagiarism claims themselves are unfounded – instead of word-for-word passages of text, she says they are merely words, phrases or snippets of ideas of images that the two discussed while dating and working together.

More worryingly, her lawsuit accuses Reetz-Laiolo of harrowing emotional and physical abuse during their time together, to justify her use of spyware. This abuse, her lawyers suggest, has continued with his current lawsuit and years of accusations behind the scenes.

My only experience of publishing a novel has been one where I am under acute attack, with my sexual history weaponised against me by a cadre of male lawyers

The full statement from Cline’s lawyers says she wants 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”.

What should be noted is that Reetz-Laiolo is being represented by the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner, owned by one of America’s most famous litigators, David Boies. Boies has recently been condemned for tactics used while representing Harvey Weinstein, such as hiring private investigators to discredit Weinstein's accusers, including Rose McGowan.

Similarly, morally murky tactics have been employed in the Cline case. One early draft of the complaint against her included a section called “Cline’s History of Manipulating Older Men” – at the time of the relationship, she was 20 and Reetz-Laiolo was 32 – as well as naked selfies, personal diary entries, explicit messages and other graphic details about Cline’s supposed sexual behaviour.

Cline responded, in a statement made to The New York Times, explaining that although the argument has only now been made public, it has been raging for years: “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. My only experience of publishing a novel has been one where I am under acute attack, with my sexual history weaponized against me by a cadre of male lawyers. I’ll never be able to get back the years I’ve now spent responding to an ex-boyfriend’s baseless legal assaults and ludicrous, billion-dollar claims instead of writing another book. That’s a loss I don’t know how to fully comprehend.”

Essentially, an entire section of a plagiarism complaint was dedicated to weaponising a woman’s sexual history to smear and threaten her, despite being irrelevant to the case itself.

The final case that has been filed by Reetz-Laiolo and his lawyers does not include the sexual details from the earlier draft, which appears to confirm that the information was never intended as a legitimate part of their case should it reach court, but rather an attempt to coerce Cline into an early settlement under threat of a court case being humiliating for her.

Never underestimate how tenuous a link needs to be for a woman to be shamed in a courtroom for having sex.


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Emma Cline (Photo: Rex)
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Emma Cline

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