What legal action canI take ifmy extook my computer and will not let me retrieve valuable files that are on it?

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What legal action canI take ifmy extook my computer and will not let me retrieve valuable files that are on it?

My ex-girlfriend of 15 years who I lived with took our computer containing personal information and files that are valuable to me. Some of these files on the computer contain personal information as well as person photographs, and music I had recorded as a musician over the past 10 years. I have made numerous efforts asking her via voicemail and e-mail if she will help me retrieve my files and I have gotten no answers. I live in IL and she now lives in CA. I need to recover those files. 

Asked on July 29, 2010 under Business Law, Illinois

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Whose computer was it--i.e. not who used it, but who purchased it, and for whom?

If you bought it for yourself or she bought it for  you as a gift, so it's unequivocally yours, you could sue for its return or value, or possibly even report her to the police--theft.

If she bought it for herself  or you bought it for her as a gift, the computer itself is hers. *Possibly* you could sue for the return of the files, but that is apt to be a very expensive proposition. You could also possibly sue for the replacement cost of any software you put on the machine, or any files you purchased. However, the law does not recognize sentimental value or "sweat value" of computer files, so even if there are photos on the computer or your music, you really can't get much, if anything, for them.

If the computer was jointly bought and owned, you have a 1/2 stake in the computer and could possibly sue for 1/2 its current value, plus the software/file value, as above.

So at the end of the day: unless it was competely and provably your computer, there is little you can do. You can possibly go to court and sue for an order requiring that files be returned to you, but that can be very expensive; and if in the meantime, she "accidentally" erased or deleted them, there is little liability.

Going forward, always back up valuable information.


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