At It Again: Salinger and Copyright Infringement

July 1, 2009 at 2:24 pm 14 comments

I love how J. D. Salinger is so committed to suing the pants off anyone who wants to mess with his work. Sure, he’s a reclusive nut job, but he clearly has some dedication and perseverance in order to keep derivative works off the market for, what, 60 years? The man is 90 years old and still pressing lawsuits. Impressive.

Anyway, ol’ Jerry has done it again… this time suing to block publication of a work entitled 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye that features a 76-year-old Holden Caulfield. Read the two New York Times articles here and here.

What I find bizarre about this whole thing, from a literary standpoint, is that Holden Caulfield is distinctly American and distinctly adolescent. An elderly Holden as written by a 33-year-old Swedish man is more likely to destroy the character than shed any light on it, and I really would rather see The Catcher in the Rye remain untouched rather than have to undergo a Scarlett or Mr. Darcy Takes a Wifestyle fiasco.

Then again, this is certainly a beloved book — why shouldn’t authors feel free to pay homage to one of the great American masterpieces without fear of being sued? If authors are free to write about Pride and Prejudice and stick zombies in there at random points, who is to stop them? Possibly Salinger is blocking these author’s right to free speech and free press, hmmm?

Anyway, as Linda Richman would say, I’m getting a little verklempt — talk amongst yourselves — here, I’ll give you a topic: Does J. D. Salinger have the right to so vehemently withhold the rights to such an iconic character? Discuss :P


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Mysteriously silent on the subject of how to solve a mystery The Age of Awesomeness

14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  July 1, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Ah, I had so wondered if you saw the Times articles on this and now an answer! You being my resident Salinger expert, I’d much like to hear if you think he has that right.

    I am rather conflicted, mainly because I tend to think everyone has the right to do everything: Salinger has the right to object in a court of law just as much as Mr. Swede has the right to write whatever he wants just as much as the reading public has the right (and the judgment) to read or not read Mr. Swede’s work just as much as Holden himself has the right to grow old.

    But who has the most rights in this case? I think it has to be Salinger. He created Holden and that hand trumps all.

    Also, there’s a difference between loving a book and paying homage to it and drumming up publicity for your derivative work by purposefully antagonizing a notorious and elderly recluse. Not naming names, of course…

  • 2. KT  |  July 1, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Yeah, I think that this guy was really just trying to sell some books (and I believe the judge agreed with me on that point — or at least she didn’t believe that he was trying to create a ‘critical parody’ or whatever and that he just made THAT up to try to win in court).

    Like, come on, guys. The man is 90 years old and yes, he’s cantankerous, and it sucks that he won’t publish anything or let anyone else publish anything and whatever, but he’s NINETY and he worked really hard on all that shit and all he’s trying to do is DIE IN PEACE. Cool it.

    I have to say, I am glad that I’m going to be like 70 when Holden Caulfield passes into the public domain. I can see it now — HOLDEN TAKES A SCARLETT WIFE IN THE RYE. Whoo. >:(

  • 3. Corey  |  July 1, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    I think you should write this “Holden Takes a Scarlett Wife in the Rye”! Sounds fascinating! Except maybe add in some zombies. Or vampires because, as we know, everyone loves a good vampire. ZOMBIE Holden Takes a VAMPIRE Scarlett Wife in the Rye! It’ll be great!

    Silliness aside, I am very glad to hear the judge ruled on Salinger’s side. This Swedish fellow was so clearly just trying to be controversial.

  • 4. KT  |  July 1, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    Is it weird that I would switch it so it was Vampire Holden and Zombie Scarlett? Because then Holden could be all ambivalent about being undead and he could bitch about how Allie didn’t get to be undead and then he could go on blood-drinking binges and try to bite a hooker or something (the hooker being loosely based on Kristen Stewart) and not be able to because he’s just so MESSED UP OH GOD.

    And instead of being all “Tara! Mother!” all the time, Zombie Scarlett could be all “RARGH BRAINS!” Not that much of a change. :P

    The ‘In the Rye’ part is reminding me of Wuthering Heights, though. Clearly Zombie Scarlett will marry Ashley Wilkes and die giving birth to their half-zombie child and Holden will go beat his head against a tree and curse the day he ever became undead. Awesome.

  • 5. Corey  |  July 2, 2009 at 6:08 am

    No, you’re totally right. Holden should definitely be the vampire! My only prior thinking was “hmm…vampires like blood…blood is red…or scarlet, shall we say…Vampire Scarlett!” so yours is vastly better!

    In your oodles of spare time (heh) you should definitely write a Dashvedanyeshka-like (and I guess by that I simply mean “parody”) “Vampire Holden Takes a Zombie Scarlett Wife In the Rye.” The title alone is comic genius!

    Incidentally, have you read any of the post-Pride and Prejudice books? I saw a woman on the bus the other day reading one and I’m still divided on the concept.

  • 6. KT  |  July 2, 2009 at 9:03 am

    Ah, you’re forgetting Holden’s red hat, which is clearly a symbol for his insatiable blood lust!

    I think we’re on the verge of a lawsuit right now with this conversation :P

    And no, I haven’t read any of the post-Pride and Prejudice books on principle…I am thinking that Jane Austen’s whole intent was to portray COURTSHIP and not the actual nuts and bolts of a marriage, so it would kind of be a betrayal of her to read (let alone write) such a sequel. Add that to the fact that probably the quality of writing is not up to snuff, and that probably this writer could have written her books as just romances but jumped on the Jane Austen gravy train instead, and I have very little desire to ever read one.

    That said, if I found one for a good price in Ventura, I might pick it up just to do some research for Vampire Holden etc. :P

  • 7. Corey  |  July 2, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Funnily enough, I was just thinking something similar regarding the legality of Vampire Holden! If we don’t have the right to publish it, does that mean we don’t have the right to write it and does that mean we don’t have the right to talk about writing it? If so, then the court case (remember the one we were initially talking about?) certainly went too far! Oh the law…so twisty and awesome.

    Indeed, I, too, dislike the principle of the post-Pride and Prejudice books but would also probably be willing to read it for $1 or less. Just to satisfy my curiosity. I also agree about this jumping on an old classic book to gain publicity and readership for your derivative book. But we’ve already berated Mr. Swede for that already!

  • 8. Corey  |  July 2, 2009 at 9:16 am

    Wow redundant…Those last two sentences were really poorly-phrased and I apologize! Too many “alreadys”!

  • 9. KT  |  July 2, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    I think it’s only if we try to make money off of it or sell some sort of derivative work. Technically, you are still allowed to write and think whatever you want. You just can’t make money off of other people’s ideas unless they’ve been dead 70 years or more!

    And also, I realized if J. D. Salinger dies this year, I’ll be 93 when Catcher enters the public domain. Thank God for small mercies, right? I’ll never have to read about a 76-year-old Holden trying to escape a retirement home, anyway, or about Phoebe becoming a drug addict (which is apparently what this new book was about).

  • 10. Corey  |  July 2, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    Well, if Mr. Swede (or his estate) can hold out as long as you can, we may yet be subject to this ridiculous book. Alternately, Salinger can just live forever, which he seems pretty well set on doing at this point if only to prevent his works from ever being published or mutilated. Cantankerous, indeed!

  • 11. KT  |  July 2, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Aw, apparently he is recovering from hip surgery and is totally deaf :(

    Salinger, not the Swede. And since the Swede is 33 not 23, I am thinking he might well die before I do.

  • 12. Corey  |  July 2, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    Totally deaf?! Oh no! I wonder if he learned sign language.

    And here’s hoping on the Swede front. What did he do with himself before this anyway?

  • 13. KT  |  July 2, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Oh, God only knows. Probably made snarky remarks about Americans and book-banning, much like he’s doing now.

    And knowing Salinger, he probably just makes everyone write everything down — Holden actually talks about wishing to be deaf in Catcher, or pretending to be deaf or something, and he says he’d make everyone write down what they wanted to say.


  • 14. Fathers and Sons « Literary Transgressions  |  July 7, 2009 at 12:19 am

    […] argument is along the same lines as the post about creative ownership; does owning the copyright give someone the ethical right to create derivative works or edit […]


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