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Salinger sues to protect his copyright

8 June 2009

J D Salinger is suing the pseudonymous author who is planning shortly to publish a sequel Salinger's famous novel Catcher in the Rye presents what looks like a strong case of invasion of copyright.

Salinger is notoriously shy and for many years he has lived in the same small New Hampshire town, where the locals are said to protect his privacy by not telling outsiders where he lives. But Catcher in the Rye is a hugely successful novel, having sold some 65 million copies since it was first published, and the temptation to seize some of that fame seems to have been too much for J D California.

Salinger also sued London-based Windupbird Publishing, Sweden-based Nicotext, and SCB Distributors, of Gardena, California. He calls the new book 'a rip-off pure and simple' and says the cover of the new book even has a strapline describing it as a 'sequel to one of our most beloved classics'.

Salinger has form as regards protecting his copyright. In 1987 he succeeded in blocking publication of a biography by the respected biographer Ian Hamilton, forcing Hamilton to rewrite the book without quoting from the author's unpublished letters. The court's decision set new rules for fair use of letters, complicating the task of biographers. Hamilton eventually published his book as In Search of J.D. Salinger.

The complaint describes Salinger, accurately, as 'fiercely protective of his intellectual property.' It states that Salinger 'has never allowed any derivative works to be made using either The Catcher in the Rye or his Holden Caulfield character, did not and would not approve of defendants' use of his intellectual property. The right to create a sequel to The Catcher in the Rye or to use the character of Holden Caulfield in any other work belongs to Salinger and Salinger alone, and he has decidedly chosen not to exercise that right.'

The case is reminiscent of the battle fought in court by J K Rowling, who brought the charge of a massive case of plagiarism against by Vander Ark, a fan, who used large chunks of her Harry Potter books without her permission to put together a Harry Potter Lexicon (see News Review 5 May 2008).

Rowling said: 'I believe this book constitutes wholesale theft of 17 years of my hard work. It adds little if anything by way of commentary; the quality of that commentary is derisory; and it debases what I worked so hard to create. What particularly galls me is the lack of quotation marks. If Mr Vander had put quotation makes around everything he had lifted, most of the book would be in quotation marks.' She won her case.