11:17, July 03 89 0 theguardian.com

2018-07-03 11:17:04
Emma Cline's ex-boyfriend's copyright claim dismissed

A California judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by author Emma Cline’s ex-boyfriend alleging that Cline’s bestselling debut novel, The Girls, stole from his own writings and infringed his copyright.

Cline’s former partner Chaz Reetz-Laiolo’s suit, filed last November, claimed that she used spyware installed on a computer she sold him to steal from the screenplays he was writing. A countersuit from Cline acknowledged that while she had used spyware to keep track of Reetz-Laiolo during their relationship, she lost access to the software once she sold him the computer. Calling the theory that she stole unpublished work from his computer “ludicrous”, she said that her “abusive ex-boyfriend” was trying “to extract millions of dollars by intimidation and threat, all under the auspices of frivolous claims of copyright infringement”.

After Cline and Reetz-Laiolo broke up, Cline went on to win a $2m (£1.5m) book deal for The Girls, her bestselling story of a teenage girl who is drawn into a dark cult in the 1960s. Reetz-Laiolo’s lawyers argued for publisher Penguin Random House to stop printing the book; Cline asked for the court to declare she did not infringe copyright.

Judge William Orrick dismissed Reetz-Laiolo’s claim of copyright infringement, writing in an order that while “there are undeniable similarities between the works … they are predominantly isolated to a few intermittent scenes and general plot ideas”.

“Both stories are ‘coming of age’ tales of sorts. But they vary significantly in detail, breadth and texture,” Orrick wrote. “The commonalities Reetz-Laiolo identifies – an alienated youth, in the care of a single parent, falling in with a bad crowd and/or committing a crime, and being sent away as a result – are merely ‘familiar stock scenes and themes that are staples of literature and are not protected’.”

Reetz-Laiolo had also attempted to lay out overlaps in dialogue between The Girls and his screenplay: “Ray’s gesture, ‘We’re not gonna have any stealing up here, eh’ is 12 syllables long, and ends in a subordinate second clause meant to mitigate the gravity of the subject. Carl’s gesture, ‘I don’t have to lock you in your room, do I’ is 11 syllables long and ends in a similarly amiable subordinate clause.” But Orrick said that this overlap did not ‘rise to the level of substantial similarity’.

The order allows a number of other claims to survive, including both parties’ claims “for intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress”, and provides Reetz-Laiolo with an opportunity to “amend his copyright claim”, if he can provide sufficient evidence to prove Cline improperly downloaded his manuscript.

Cline told the Cut in an email: “I’m extremely gratified that a judge has dismissed the meritless claims against my novel … and very thankful for the support I’ve received from the writing community. As deeply painful as it has been to bring this dispute into the light, I’m glad I did not capitulate. My book is and always has been my own.”

Random House added: “We are pleased that the court has put to rest these unfounded claims against our author Emma Cline. And we are proud to stand by Cline and her remarkable debut novel.”

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