Can J.D. Salinger stop a 'Catcher In the Rye' sequel?

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Can J.D. Salinger stop a 'Catcher In the Rye' sequel?

Tue Jun 02, 2009 @ 02:39PM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Catcher There's nothing like a good legal dispute to force the world's most reclusive author to come out of the shadows.

J.D. Salinger filed a lawsuit yesterday in New York District Court over an author's planned sequel to "The Catcher in the Rye."


Salinger says the book, titled "60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye," authored by pseudonymous J.D. California, is "a rip-off pure and simple," and violates the copyright on the original book and the character of Holden Caulfield. Salinger wants publication enjoined and all copies destroyed.

What are Salinger's chances of winning this case?

Copyright protection on fictional characters can be extremely complex. The first thing that any court will look at is the originality of the claimed character. Is Holden Caulfield original enough to merit copyright protection?

Next, a court might review how the new Caulfield differs from the original and whether the character's presence in the new book is protected fair use, such as parody. In the lawsuit, Salinger claims that no parody is involved and there's really no difference in the characterization. The complaint quotes J.D. California's description of his book: "Just like the first novel, he leaves, but this time he's not at a prep school, he's at a retirement home in upstate New York...It's pretty much like the first book in that he roams around the city, inside himself and his past."

Character stealing and unauthorized sequels are not unprecedented. 

For example, check out this 2001 opinion by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals over the character of James Bond — the violent and alcoholic Bond of the Ian Fleming books versus the Bond that most people are familiar with in the movies. The plaintiff was one of the collaborators on the screenplay to "Thunderball" and claimed he transformed the title character and had a stake. (The Ninth Circuit ruled that he had waited too long to claim his piece of the pie.)

The Salinger case could be interesting. Maybe the greatest mystery of all will be whether the author himself shows up to any of the proceedings. Perhaps he'll only give a deposition, like he did in a 1987 lawsuit against Random House that successfully blocked publication of a biography that contained some of his letters. We envy Marcia Paul of Davis Wright & Tremaine who represents Salinger and will presumably get to ask him a lot of interesting questions about "The Catcher in the Rye."

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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