Last week, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction barring the publication in the United States of what J.D. Salinger’s attorneys called an unauthorized sequel to The Catcher in the Rye. Writer and publisher Fredrik Colting sought to publish a U.S. edition of his book, 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye. In it, Colting has Salinger bring back “Mr. C,” now 76 years old, to kill him off and be clear of the fictional character at last.
Judge Deborah Batts ruled that Colting’s work would harm the market for “sequels and other derivative works” from Salinger. According to Publishers Weekly, Salinger has not published or licensed any new work since 1965.
Fredrik Colting contends his book is a “stand-alone” story that is a critique of Salinger’s work. The judge, however, classified Colting’s work as a sequel. The author obviously misjudged the iconic status of Salinger and his work in the American culture. “I’m from Sweden,” Colting told PW. “People don’t go around suing each other here. Maybe I was a little naïve.” Ya think?
Copyright Catches. Aaron Silverman, president of book distributor SCB, was also named in the suit. Silverman frequently scouts for promising titles from European and Asian publishers to distribute U.S. editions. (SCB distributed my White Cloud Press titles for many years.) Apparently, Silverman didn’t see this train coming.
Beyond the impacts it may have on traditional print distribution channels, this case raises troubling questions for the borderless online publishing universe. If Holden Caulfield is protected by copyright as a character, independent of the fiction in which he appears, where does copyright begin and end? If you publish an unauthorized eBook sequel to an English-language story in Chinese, what legal risk are you taking? It sounds like intellectual property law will be a good field to enter for a long time.
Recluse Redress. There is another irresistible attraction to the Catcher in the Rye case. If the appeal of the case goes to trial, the famously reclusive Salinger may be compelled to be deposed. “If Salinger refuses to comply and answer the defense’s questions, PW notes, “the court can impose sanctions and even dismiss the case. Thus, filing suit against Colting may have put Salinger’s desire for privacy on a collision course with his desire to protect Holden Caulfield.”
I’d rather have Salinger retain his mythic recluse status. But I also worry about the precedents created by this case, particularly as it gives a judge power to declare a work parody or sequel, which is outside the reasonable realm of the courtroom.
“Salinger’s Last Stand: Is Fredrik Colting’s book 60 Years Later fair use or just a ‘goddam phony’?” By Andrew Richard Albanese — Publishers Weekly, 6/22/2009
“Salinger Wins as Judge Blocks Publication of 60 Years Later” By Andrew Albanese — Publishers Weekly, 7/1/2009