Lawyers for acclaimed author J. D. Salinger, who wrote “The Catcher in the Rye,” have filed suit to enjoin circulation of Fredrik Colting’s new novel, “60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye,” claiming that it infringes Salinger’s copyright.
Defendant Colting’s novel has already been released in Europe and was scheduled for a September release in the U.S. Colting claims his novel is legally protected commentary and a parody of "The Catcher in the Rye." Colting, writing under the pen name John David (J.D.) California, introduces “Mr. C.” in his book as the 76-year-old Holden Caulfield who escapes from a nursing home and pontificates on his experiences while meandering New York City. The novel, which is Colting’s first novel to be published, also features a character named "J.D. Salinger."
Salinger’s lawyers contend that the right to create a sequel to “The Catcher in the Rye” or to use the character “Holden Caulfield” belongs only to Salinger, who has never permitted his work to be filmed, staged or otherwise adapted. The suit further argues that sales of Colting’s unauthorized book would siphon off profits due Salinger. Catcher has been a highly successful book that has been translated into dozens of languages and has sold more than 35 million copies worldwide
Colting’s lawyers contend that 60 Years is a commentary on Catcher, Salinger and the Holden character. They contend that the work shows the battle between Salinger and a 76 year-old “Mr. C” as Salinger struggles to kill off his famous character. They further argue that Colting has only taken as much of Catcher as needed to make his points, and there is no literal copying of any expression in Catcher other than a few catch-phrases such as “phony” and “goddam.” Only three of the 80 or so characters in Catcher appear in 60 Years, and they are considerably older than their younger counterparts in Catcher. In Catcher, Holden is 16 years old.
While characters can be protected under copyright, most decisions involve protection of characters from cartoons, films and other visual medium, rather than literary characters described only in words.
Colting’s lawyers further argue that many elements of “The Catcher in the Rye” are generic to numerous works of fiction and are hence not protectable, and that, even if protectable, their manifestations in the two books are insufficiently similar. Salinger’s lawyers, on the other hand, enumerate specific parallels between what they contend are idiosyncratic elements of “The Catcher in the Rye,” and elements of Colting’s book.
Even if the court finds Colting’s work to be substantially similar to protectable aspects of Salinger’s work, Colting may prevail on a fair use defense. Courts have tended to consider parodies that do not detract commercially from the copied work to be fair uses of the work. In filed declarations, Colting and academicians describe Colting’s novel as a parody exploring the unresolved relationship between Salinger, who emerges as a character in the book, and his autobiographical creation, Holden Caulfield.
Salinger’s lawyers, alternatively, characterize Colting’s book as merely an imitative knock-off, or sequel to the original. They contend the work is not a parody and it has no claim to fair use because it does not poke fun, ridicule, comment upon, criticize, or otherwise transform “The Catcher in the Rye.”
J.D. SALINGER v. John DOE, writing under the name John David California; Windupbird Publishing Ltd.; Nicotext A.B.; and ABP, Inc. d/b/a SCB Distributors Inc., No. 09 Civ. 5095 DAB (June 1, 2009).Complaint available at Westlaw, 2009 WL 1615819 (S.D.N.Y).