December 2, 2017

The story of Emma Cline and Chaz Reetz-Laiol — what a plot!

I'm reading "Can the Plagiarism Charges Against Emma Cline Hold Up in Court?" by Lila Shapiro (in NY Magazine). Emma Cline wrote a well-regarded novel called "The Girls," which I'm just guessing you don't care about. But the question of what counts as plagiarism doesn't require that you care about the particular book, so pay attention.

You've got a writer who shared her life for a while with another writer, the delightfully named Chaz Reetz-Laiol. They were together, and then they broke up.

So they are each other's material, right? Have you ever been raw material for a writer who was also raw material for your writing? I have! More famously, there was that couple of all couples, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald:
In 1932, while being treated at the Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Zelda had a burst of creativity. Over the course of her first six weeks at the clinic, she wrote an entire novel and sent it to Scott's publisher, Maxwell Perkins.

When Scott finally read Zelda's book, a week after she'd sent it to Perkins, he was furious. The book was a semi-autobiographical account of the Fitzgeralds' marriage. In letters, Scott berated her and fumed that the novel had drawn upon the autobiographical material that he planned to use in Tender Is the Night, which he'd been working on for years, and which would finally see publication in 1934.
Zelda's book "Save Me the Waltz" came out first, but only after she'd complied with his demand to remove everything based on material that he was using in his book. Even though she used the material in her own way, she was scooping him on the stories. For various reasons, he got his way, she was silenced, and there was no litigation. F. Scott had accused her of plagiarism and of being a bad writer, and she never wrote another book. The crushing of Zelda's art was the subject of the 1970 biography "Zelda," by Nancy Milford, which was pretty much required reading for those of us who read "Sexual Politics" and "The Female Eunuch" back then.

But back to Emma Cline and her Reetz-Laiol. They had what looks like a bad relationship for about 4 years, beginning when she was 20 and he was 33. According to the NY Magazine article, she "installed spy software on her own computer — a computer that Reetz-Laiolo occasionally used," because she wanted to spy on him, and she later sold that computer to him and continued to spy on him through that spyware after they broke up.
Her complaint says she did this because she knew he was cheating on her, because he was abusive, because she "could no longer distinguish the truth from ReetzLaiolo’s [sic] constant lies." 
If you knew he was cheating on you and he was abusive and lying at least some of the time, why wouldn't you just be done with him? Why embark on a creepy spying exercise?

It was after they broke up that Cline asked Reetz-Laiolo to read a draft of her novel, and he found things he considered plagiarism:
According to [Orly Lobel, a professor of law at the University of San Diego], most of these examples [of plagiarism] would not hold up in court. One instance includes the mention of the body brush, a personal grooming implement. In an earlier draft of the book, Cline included this sentence: “My mother spoke to Sal about body brushing, of the movement of energies around meridian points. The charts.” Reetz-Laiolo claimed this plagiarized a sentence that appeared in his short story, “Animals,” in Ecotone magazine: “Laurel in the morning brushing her body on the patio with a body brush, slowly combing it up her legs towards her heart, up her arms towards her heart. Circling her belly. There was something totemic about her out there in the sun.”

But Cline’s complaint stated that she owned a body brush. “The law does not allow you to own those kinds of ideas for art,” said Lobel. “There’s no copyright infringement there. It’s very clear that our whole history of art, of writing, of literature is built on paying homage to previous authors, other authors, being in conversation, and that’s actually part of what art is.”
I certainly agree with Lobel about that, but perhaps New York Magazine singled out the feeblest example of plagiarism. And, more importantly, every example of plagiarism Reetz-Laiolo complained about got excised before publication. You'd think, in our day, the man wouldn't be able to silence the woman like that, and these people were hardly F. Scott and Zelda. And yet, the threat of litigation intimidates publishers, and I'm not surprised to see the publisher (here, Random House) cave.
But Reetz-Laiolo had also asked Cline to remove a small section of the text that his complaint alleged resembled a section of his screenplay, a script she could only have read if she did, in fact, remotely hack into his computer. If the case does go to trial, this will likely be at the center of it, since it is the only instance of alleged plagiarism that made its way into the published version of The Girls. Lobel was skeptical of the plagiarism charge here as well, but if Reetz-Laiolo’s legal team is able to prove that Cline hacked into Reetz-Laiolo’s computer, Cline may be charged with something, though likely not plagiarism.
It's something much worse than plagiarism!
It’s important to note that Reetz-Laiolo hired Harvey Weinstein’s former law firm, Boies Schiller Flexner, and that the law firm used a trove of Cline’s personal documents — captured by the spyware program she installed on her own computer — to threaten Cline.
Oh, here's a plot!  Look how carefully the plot point is revealed: Aggressive, expensive lawyers (tainted by the villainous Harvey Weinstein), the woman's "personal documents," the woman threatened. But she's hoist by her own petard: the spyware! She was looking at him, but the spyware was looking at everyone. She preserved the evidence, and, going after him, she unleashed a robot who spied without any allegiance to her. Unlike a novelist, the electronic spy had no point of view. It generated relentless raw material, from which any author could cull material to use to tell a story from any point of view. And that includes those oft-disparaged authors — we call them lawyers — who write legal complaints.
Reetz-Laiolo’s complaint is threaded with salacious and humiliating details about Cline that are completely unrelated to any charge of plagiarism.... According to The New Yorker, an earlier draft of the complaint contained even more salacious details, including naked selfies, explicit chat messages, and a section called “Cline’s History of Manipulating Older Men,” which began like this: “[E]vidence shows that Cline was not the innocent and inexperienced naïf she portrayed herself to be, and had instead for many years maintained numerous ‘relations’ with older men and others, from whom she extracted gifts and money.”...

As Cline’s complaint noted, this earlier draft of Reetz-Laiolo’s lawsuit “followed an age-old playbook: it invoked the specter of sexual shame to threaten a woman into silence and acquiescence.”
But she spied on him! She invaded his privacy, and she invaded her own privacy. What should be done with these two? Imagine if a man had installed software on a computer that he left in the possession of a woman, and she took that computer with her into her life after she got away from him, and he spied on her through it for years and collected her writings and appropriated her stories for a book of his, which won acclaim. Would we be saying the woman was shaming the man? If the spyware collected embarrassing sexual material about him, would we be outraged that it became public after she decided to fight him for what he did or would we be laughing at him and calling it just deserts?

The New Yorker article is "How the Lawyer David Boies Turned a Young Novelist’s Sexual Past Against Her," by Sheelah Kolhatkar:
Cline’s attorneys were outraged by what they regarded as Boies Schiller’s attempt to use embarrassing sexual material that had nothing to do with the heart of the legal dispute to push her to settle the case. “I’m not going to speculate about their motives, but it was content that was completely inappropriate and ludicrous, just based on how sexually graphic it was, to put in a complaint,” Carrie Goldberg, who specializes in representing victims of revenge porn and other forms of harassment, and is one of several attorneys representing Cline in the case, told me. “Legal complaints are public record, and, basically, they’re saying, ‘Hey, if you don’t give us what our client wants, we’re going to put this very personal information out into the open, and the whole world is going to know the inner workings of your sex life and your sexual history and every proclivity that you have.’ ”...

In an e-mail to me on Thursday, Cline wrote, “I never, in any scenario, could have imagined publishing a novel would have resulted in a bunch of lawyers combing through records of my porn habits, or choosing which naked photo of me to include in a legal document. Whatever independence I gained, as a writer and as a person, felt meaningless in the face of this kind of onslaught.”....
Why couldn't she imagine that? She's a novelist. It would be a great idea for a novel. But some novelists need to see the raw material out there in real life, and their art is about taking that and making it into something really interesting and revealing about human nature. And wow, this is some fabulous raw material.

Whatever independence I gained, as a writer and as a person... Isn't that insanely hypocritical when you installed the spyware?!

48 comments:

Narayanan Subramanian said...

Every child is a plagiarist ... Gene writing from his parents

james james said...

Everyone who writes about the Holocaust is, in some way, plagiarizing Hitler.

- james james

Narayanan Subramanian said...

Novels can't have parents?

james james said...

Not a fault of Althouse's writing, but I had to read the post three times to get a handle on who did exactly what to who.

If actions belong solely to the person who did them, then are all biographies a form of plagiarism?

Also:

"Carrie Goldberg, who specializes in representing victims of revenge porn..."

Revenge Porn is plagiarism, too, I think.

Unless you think of one of the parties as an uncredited ghost-writer.

- james james

Ken B said...

Wait. 33 and 20. How is that so much different from 32 and 19? Moore.

Fernandistein said...

Reetz-Laiol

That name sounds like it was plagiarized from a Swiss cough medicine.

MrCharlie2 said...

32-19=13

32-14=perv

john said...

Wow, long-form Saturday. Ann, you should break these out into chapters (c.f., Alexander, Scott).

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Boies Schiller Flexner will need to be reckoned.

Mac McConnell said...

Plagiarism gets confusing sometimes and even with people with expensive journalism degrees and a backup army of professional fact checkers still get it wrong. For example, Newsweek had a scoop this week accusing Ivanka Trump of plagiarism in her speech in India. Evidently using lines you wrote in a previous speech in a current speech is plagiarism.

Etienne said...

...why wouldn't you just be done with him?

Endocrine glands. These are the devils in life.

wildswan said...

Justine, Baltazar and RootKit 007 - what would be the proper perspective on these three: the man, the woman, the AI? and their three documents - two novels and spyware collecting. And would a suppressed woman's novel be more interesting because it was suppressed by a best seller than the best seller if another novelist told the woman's story well? It's an interesting question but the protagonists right here are not interesting. We need Tiny Tim or Donald Trump or Marilyn Monroe or as Althouse says Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald.

William said...

I got a headache reading it. The complexities and convolutions are something only a lawyer could love. A vast expanse of billable hours lie before them as they pursue the truth. Sadly, the parties involved don't seem wealthy enough to to pursue the truth to its final reckoning. How was the one writer even able to afford the Boies law firm?......That's why I'm so fond of the Harvey scandals. You don't have to rack your brain or your conscience to form an opinion.

EDH said...

A behind the scenes view into the classless "creative class."

John said...

Smells like phart to me.

Phoney art, a tetm coined here in althouse by a commenter I would credit if I could.

John Henry

John said...

Re plagiarism, Time Magazine, I think, is claiming that Ivanka Trump plagiarized herself.

She said something in a speech she had said before.

I publish a lot and much of the time I am plagiarizing my own ideas.

As Paul Harvey said, you don't change the speech, you change the audience

John Henry

Ken B said...

The problem mcharlie2 is that his dates with 18 or 19 year Olds are cited too, under the rubric teens. Nice to see you acknowledge the inherent dishonesty of that.

james james said...

There was a college kid in the bar once who got kicked out of the University for plagiarism. He said he cut-and-pasted something from Wikipedia into a paper, then forget to credit the reference. Not sure if it was a phrase, a paragraph, the whole Wikipedia page -- he didn't specify: just cut-and-paste.

Maybe the University was right in its action. But maybe he just found the thought he wanted to say, and thought it generic enough to be okay. It probably wasn't scintillating prose. Probably pretty voice-neutral. Teaching one to cover one's ass when using words isn't a bad thing to learn, but -- if the wording had been properly reworded -- was the paper any good? Are medical techniques OK that were plagiarized from Nazi doctors? Maybe not a great comparison, sure.

But we have become a Cut-and-Paste Nation. The bovine creature no longer resides in the farm dwelling. Put as such so I don't plagiarize 'the cow has left the barn'.

We read something we like, we cut-and-paste it to our social media. We cut-and-paste quotes, anecdotes, recipes, memes. We cut-and-paste movie dialogue into our conversations, we cut-and-paste our politics, our beliefs, our identity. Imitation is no longer the sincerest form of flattery, plagiarism is.

He was at the bar for a few days, regrouping from his setback. Then he went back home to whatever city that home was. Hopefully he was able to enroll in another college. Someone once said something about second chances, but I don't want to state it word-for-word.

- james james

Michael K said...

Too weird for me.

Ken B said...

And how often has Althouse suggested the portal, in virtually identical wording? Could the plagiarism, of herself, be more blatant?

MrCharlie2 said...

Ken B said...
The problem mcharlie2 is that his dates with 18 or 19 year Olds are cited too, under the rubric teens. Nice to see you acknowledge the inherent dishonesty of that.

I acknowledge nothing and don't care that much. I don't live in Alabana.

Sydney said...

Cline’s attorneys were outraged by what they regarded as Boies Schiller’s attempt to use embarrassing sexual material that had nothing to do with the heart of the legal dispute to push her to settle the case.... “Legal complaints are public record, and, basically, they’re saying, ‘Hey, if you don’t give us what our client wants, we’re going to put this very personal information out into the open, and the whole world is going to know the inner workings of your sex life and your sexual history and every proclivity that you have.’ ”.

Is blackmail legal when lawyers do it?

Sebastian said...

"had instead for many years maintained numerous ‘relations’ with older men and others, from whom she extracted gifts and money.” Wait, so rhhardin is right?

Anyway, this saga shows Borges died too soon.

Daniel Jackson said...

I would like to point out a rather revealing (Freudian) slip in that the author of the New Yorker article is Sheelah Kolhatkar NOT Shellac Kolhatkar.

Shellac being a coating (not unlike WHITEWASH).

However, when I was young, I understood SHELLAC as something that my father would occasionally do to my rear end as the House Justice for some of the outrageous things I and my brother committed.

Shellac indeed.

Ray said...

Is lawfare ethical?

The process is the punishment.

And now the lady used the press back at him. And his name will live forever in the internet with his actions.

Both are in a lose lose situation. They actually did MAD - mutually assured destruction.

Sad neither of these idiots thought of the consequences.

AllenS said...

When in time, do we reach that point when every combination of words have been recorded? We are probably getting awfully close, I think.

Apologies if what I just said has already been said by someone else.

Zach said...

There was a college kid in the bar once who got kicked out of the University for plagiarism. He said he cut-and-pasted something from Wikipedia into a paper, then forget to credit the reference. Not sure if it was a phrase, a paragraph, the whole Wikipedia page -- he didn't specify: just cut-and-paste.

I think your college kid may not be telling you the whole story. Back when I was a grad student, I caught a student blatantly cut and pasting an entire paper from a website. The professor congratulated me on the find, but ended up dropping the issue.

It is very, very, very, very, very difficult to discipline a college student for cheating. The administration will not back you up. At all. The most you can do is give a bad grade for the specific assignment where you caught the cheating. It may say something different in the student manual, but that's the long and short of it from the instructor's perspective.

Bill Peschel said...

I'm not sure how so much of her sexual history came up through spyware. It sounds like they ran a program on the hard drive that undeleted her files.

hile I was raised in a progressive culture and believe in equality, but when I read shit like this I really have to wonder if our ancestors got it right: women be crazy.

(In this environment, Hemingway would have had a tough time publishing "The Sun Also Rises," which I'm reading now alongside a great commentary of the work.)

Howard said...

You can see in her wide-set eyes coupled with a Beelzebub cut mouth that she is off the charts crazy. That sort of look explains the whole story. Poor little Chaz thought they were a team, now he wants his end for being her cuck for 4 years. I'm sure the girl will come out on top, the publicity will drive up the sales of her book and the experience will be the grist for the mill that results in a sophomore novel home run. I'm assuming cliche's are not considered plagiarism.

Earnest Prole said...

As Bob Dylan knows, without plagiarism there would be no culture.

Zach said...

My general inclination is to think that whatever side Boies is on is the wrong one -- people seem to hire Boies when they're in the wrong, but want to fight anyway.

Here the use of spyware is the thing that jumps out, but I don't see why the complaint is plagiarism. Is plagiarism just a hook to get the $2 million advance onto the table?

Mary Beth said...

I'm not sure how so much of her sexual history came up through spyware. It sounds like they ran a program on the hard drive that undeleted her files.

She should have wiped that computer before she sold it; he should have wiped it when he bought it. Although, of course, she wouldn't want to wipe it since she wanted to leave the keylogger (or whatever it was) on the computer. I son't trust people who spy on the personal writings/communications of others. It's like mind-rape. I wouldn't be surprised if someone like that left the nude pictures on the computer, hoping he would find them and feel regret that he lost her/cheated on her.

buwaya said...

Reality writes better novels than novelists can.

rcocean said...

Fascinating story!

Yeah, I don't know how you justify spying on someone and then using the material for a book.

Having two writers in the family can be a recipe for disaster. Gellhorn-Hemingway is a good example. Gellhorn wrote her WW2 novel "Point of No Return" in 1948 which infuriated "Papa" since she not only satirized him (he's portrayed as a blowhard with a death wish) but "stole" incidents from the time they were both on Western Front. On top of it, the whole thing is written in a Neo-Hemingway style.

Hemingway got his revenge in "Across the River and Into the Trees", which caused Gellhorn to threaten a lawsuit, but all that happened is that Scribner's dropped her.

Achilles said...

But she spied on him! She invaded his privacy, and she invaded her own privacy. What should be done with these two?

About 15 minutes of fame and a short period of time where they can reap small monetary rewards which they will waste on frivolity before returning to lives of failure and ignominy caused by their empty core personas.

rcocean said...

Truth really is stranger than fiction. Its also why the argument "He/she couldn't have done XYZ - its too weird/stupid/crazy" is worthless.

rcocean said...

The more I read about F.Scott Fitzgerald, the more I think he belonged in the loony bin with Zelda.

james james said...

"I think your college kid may not be telling you the whole story."

It is in a bar: no one tells the whole story.

- james james


Zach said...

With respect to Zelda Fitzgerald, "planned to use" is carrying a lot of weight in this paragraph:

When Scott finally read Zelda's book, a week after she'd sent it to Perkins, he was furious. The book was a semi-autobiographical account of the Fitzgeralds' marriage. In letters, Scott berated her and fumed that the novel had drawn upon the autobiographical material that he planned to use in Tender Is the Night, which he'd been working on for years, and which would finally see publication in 1934.

The timeline here is that Scott started writing Tender is the Night in 1925. The dispute was in 1932, and the novel appeared in 1934. So in 1932 he was not "planning to use" the material in his book, he had already used it!

I don't think you will find many writers who will allow early readers to write up their own version of key scenes and rush them into publication before the original work appears.

Zach said...

On the subject of two artists giving different versions of art that reflects on the relationship, did you know that Courtney Love also released a version of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" -- in 1991!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdiwftZYZX0

Nirvana did it in 1993 for Unplugged:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOZKz_sPM6U

Here, neither one of them wrote it -- it's an old folk song, and Cobain is covering Leadbelly's arrangement.

Yancey Ward said...

Well, Inga plagiarizes herself with almost every single comment these days. If you read the first one, you can skip the other 20 in any thread.

Yancey Ward said...

I was also wondering about the time line described for the Fitzgeralds and their books, and I see Zach had the same thought and found the relevant info. The word "planned" is actually misleading.

Henry said...

The only thing missing is a double murder: Throw Mama from The Train.

Zach said...

Leadbelly's version:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsfcUZBMSSg

Interesting point about interpretation -- even though Cobain (Love, too) is covering Leadbelly, I get a strong overtone of infidelity in the Nirvana version that I don't get in the Leadbelly version. In the folk song, the girl is sleeping in the pines because she misses her husband. In the Nirvana version, the girl is sleeping "in the pines, where the sun don't ever shine" in the same way that Robert Frost is stopping "in the woods on a snowy evening" -- it's a dark place, with the suggestion of death. Cobain's girl is probably cheating on him, and that's only the beginning of her problems.

Virgil Hilts said...

OK this woman is obviously in the hot crazy area of the matrix == someone you should never date. But what David Bois and his attorneys are doing is akin to revenge porn:
"What followed were thirteen pages containing screenshots of explicit chat conversations with lovers, including one in which Cline had sent a naked photo of herself (the photo was blacked out in the letter) to a boyfriend, explicit banter with people she’d met online, and snippets of her most intimate diary entries." The entire Bois law firm has access to nude photos of Cline and not just her intimate emails and now threatens to publicize them? This is revenge porn and in a better world a criminal complaint would be filed against David Bois, for whom I left not a shred of respect. What an asshole.

Ann Althouse said...

"I would like to point out a rather revealing (Freudian) slip in that the author of the New Yorker article is Sheelah Kolhatkar NOT Shellac Kolhatkar."

Ha ha. Thanks for pointing that out. I probably would never have noticed that.

Corrected. Or I should say: un-autocorrected.

John said...

I probably publish 30-40,000 words per year.

With perhaps a half-dozen exception where i invent a word every word is plagiarized!

The ideas and combinations of words mostly aren't. The rest I csll "research".

From minsk to pinsk.

More seriously I just wrote a 2500 word article for a PR firm that will be published in a national magazine inder a company exec's name. I assume the magazine knows he didn't write it but that's none of my business.

Is the exec plagiarizing by passing my work off as his own?

John Henry

Luke Lea said...

I'm with her.