Random House issued a statement in support of Ms. Cline, saying that “there is no basis to the plagiarism claims made by Mr. Reetz-Laiolo and we look forward to presenting our arguments in court.”
Her literary agent, Bill Clegg, called the legal dispute “heartbreaking and enraging” in a statement provided to The New York Times, and noted that Ms. Cline was already developing the themes and framework for “The Girls” before she met Mr. Reetz-Laiolo.
The complaint filed by Ms. Cline notes that many of the instances of overlapping phrases that Mr. Reetz-Laiolo contends were stolen from him are minimal and in some cases consist of only two words (like “heavy rear” and the word “Doomsville”). It argues that her use of spyware to read his emails was prompted by her suspicions that he was being unfaithful to her and not, as Mr. Reetz-Laiolo claims, as a way to surreptitiously read and copy his work. Ms. Cline’s lawyers have requested at least $75,000 in damages and asked that the copyright claims be dismissed.
The unusual and dramatic legal clash over “The Girls” is far from a standard copyright complaint. There are high-powered lawyers representing both parties, in a convoluted dispute that includes accusations of physical and emotional abuse and charges of digital spying and invasion of privacy.
Mr. Reetz-Laiolo is represented by Boies Schiller Flexner, which also represented the disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein and helped him in his efforts to quash the sexual harassment allegations against him. Ms. Cline’s team of lawyers includes Carrie Goldberg, a prominent lawyer and advocate who specializes in representing women who have been victims of harassment and “revenge porn,” or online sexual shaming. (Ms. Goldberg is also representing the actress Paz de la Huerta, who has accused Mr. Weinstein of raping her and is bringing a criminal case against him.)
The accusations leveled in Ms. Cline’s countersuit in many ways overshadow Mr. Reetz-Laiolo’s own claims that his intellectual property was taken, and suggest a pattern of intimidation, abuse and threats of public humiliation.
The countersuit details alleged abusive behavior by Mr. Reetz-Laiolo, including a claim that in 2012, after reading a text message on her 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. (Ms. Cline appears to have recently referred to this episode, without naming Mr. Reetz-Laiolo, in an essay she wrote about sexual harassment for New York magazine.)
In a statement provided to The Times by his lawyers, Mr. Reetz-Laiolo denied what he called “false accusations of physical abuse against me,” and said that Ms. Cline and her lawyers had not provided a defense against his claims of digital spying, as well as those of his co-plaintiffs, two women who were friends of Mr. Reetz-Laiolo, who also say that Ms. Cline used spyware to read their emails.
Ms. Cline’s countersuit contends that Mr. Reetz-Laiolo has repeatedly threatened to release embarrassing personal information about her.
Ms. Cline, who grew up in Sonoma, Calif., met Mr. Reetz-Laiolo, then 33, in 2009, when she was a 20-year-old student at Middlebury College. Their relationship ended in 2012, but they stayed in touch.
In the fall of 2014, after she had sold her novel to Random House, he told her that since she had become so successful, people might be interested in naked photographs of her that he had obtained when they were a couple, and that he was going to write a tell-all article about their relationship, Ms. Cline’s complaint says.
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.
“Reetz-Laiolo has attempted to leverage this trove of personal data as a weapon to shame and falsely accuse Cline. And his allegations follow a pattern that started during their relationship — and apparently fits with the playbook of his counsel — of prying into and exploiting Cline’s sexual history to threaten her, even going so far as to make the false and absurd claim that she was an ‘escort,’” the countersuit says.
The firm representing Mr. Reetz-Laiolo was co-founded by David Boies, who represented Vice President Al Gore in the United States Supreme Court case that followed the 2000 election. But more recently, Mr. Boies has come under scrutiny for his work representing Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Boies helped the producer hire a private investigation firm to undermine news articles about Mr. Weinstein’s sexual harassment and misconduct toward women, according to a report in The New Yorker. (The Boies firm has also provided legal counsel to The New York Times; the paper recently ended its relationship with him following the revelations of the work he did for Mr. Weinstein.)
Mr. Boies’s name was at the top of an earlier draft of the complaint from May, which referred to Ms. Cline’s “use of her sexuality to extract compensation and manipulate older men.” The complaint featured screen shots of sexual explicit messages she had sent to past lovers, and used their names.
Details from a second draft of the complaint were first reported by The New Yorker, which published an article about Mr. Boies’s involvement in the suit against Ms. Cline. The explicit material is not included in the filed complaint, and Mr. Boies is no longer listed as one of the lawyers.
“The addition of the sexually explicit content in the second draft complaint served no purpose other than to coerce Emma into a settlement,” said Ms. Goldberg. “They were threatening to file this as a lawsuit, making it public, and that’s as good as saying we’re going to be disseminating this to the entire world.”
Lawyers for Mr. Reetz-Laiolo counter that the details about her sexual past were made relevant to their copyright suit when Ms. Cline made issues of her own character and Mr. Reetz-Laiolo’s treatment of her.
“Ms. Cline’s lawyers are attempting to manipulate the important national conversation about sexual harassment to muddy the clear case of Ms. Cline’s plagiarism and illegal activity,” Boies Schiller Flexner said in a statement. “We addressed this topic only in response, and then only in confidential communications with Ms. Cline’s lawyers.”
To Ms. Cline and her lawyers, the inclusion of such material in legal communication appeared to be a thinly veiled threat that she would face public humiliation unless a settlement was reached.
“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,” Ms. Cline said in a statement to The Times. “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.”