The ex-boyfriend of author Emma Cline has filed a lawsuit against her in the US alleging that she plagiarised parts of her debut novel The Girls (Chatto & Windus) from him.
The claim alleges that Cline used spyware to access her former boyfriend Chaz Reetz-Laiolo’s email and other accounts.
However, Cline has denied the allegations and is counter-suing him, claiming that the "ludicrous" suit is part of a “two-year assault on her mental health and literary reputation” by a man jealous of his ex’s success, according to AP news.
Reetz-Laiolo also names Penguin Random House in the lawsuit, alleging that the publisher knowingly released plagiarised content when it published the novel.
The book, set in the summer of 1969, follows a bored 14-year-old girl, who becomes smitten with a beguiling older girl and is drawn into a soon-to-be-infamous commune, finding herself under the sway of a madman and closer than she knows to unthinkable violence. It is inspired by cult leader Charles Manson and his followers. Shortlisted for a host of awards, including debut book of the year at the British Book Awards, the John Leonard Award from the National Book Critics Circle, and the Center for Fiction's First Novel Prize, it has sold 148,891 copies for £1.08m in the UK across all editions through Nielsen BookScan.
Cline’s countersuit claims 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.
However, 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 is 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 (£55,760).
Reetz-Laiolo’s lawsuit demands that Penguin Random House stop printing further copies of the book and asks for unspecified damages.
Penguin Random House has been approached for comment.