Westchester attorney thinks she’ll write a sequel to Catcher in the Rye – maybe not!

“Life being a game and all.  And how you should play it according to the rules.”  (- J.D. Salinger)  However, Swedish writer Frederik Colting didn’t play by the rules when he wrote a sequel to the J.D. Salinger classic, “Catcher in the Rye.” about Holden Caulfield’s teenaged angst.  This week a federal judge in Manhattan put an indefinite ban on the release of Colting’s book, “60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye,” which narrates the story of a 76-year-old character only identified as “Mr. C.” in the book but which the court held was substantially similar to Caulfield.   See:  Salinger v. Colting, 09-cv-5095 (S.D.N.Y.)

Swedish author Frederik Colting is no J.D. Salinger

Swedish author Frederik Colting is no J.D. Salinger

Judge Deborah Batts, of the Southern District of New York, in a 37-page decision, issued a preliminary injunction against U.S. publication of the novel, which has already been released in Great Britain.  She said the Colting novel reanimates Salinger’s Caulfield character and that the new 76-year-old Mr. C.  displays “similar or identical thoughts, memories, and personality traits to Caulfield, often using precisely the same or only slightly modified language from that used by Caulfield in ‘Catcher, and has the same friends and family.”

The Copyright Act in this country reserves a so-called bundle of rights for the creator of any artistic work from the moment that work is expressed/published in a tangible form.  Those rights include:  the right to control reproduction of the work; preparation of derivative works; distribution of copies of the work; public performances of the work; and  public display of the work.

Colting and his lawyer said  he plans to appeal.  The Swedish author, by email, said “the last thing I thought possible in the U.S. was that you banned books.”  Well, maybe he forgot to read the rules.  “All morons hate it when you call them a moron.” (- J.D. Salinger)

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5 thoughts on “Westchester attorney thinks she’ll write a sequel to Catcher in the Rye – maybe not!

  1. Um… ok I’m confused. The work may or may not be classified as a derivative work, but does the “fair use” doctrine not apply in this case, or is Colting’s lawyer a dolt? Obviously the events and situations in the book must be Colting’s own work, and he must have written the book himself. As I understand it, “derivative work” means transferring the same story to another medium with minor alterations, as in the case of creating a screenplay of a book, creating a comic based on a TV show, etc. Writing a speculative “sequel”, while perhaps offensive to the original artist’s sensibilities, surely falls under fair use.

    • Aaron, generally a fair use adaptation for critique or parody would be acceptable but this went well beyond that as Judge Batts noted in her decision. The “fair use” doctrine allows non-owners to use copyrighted work for research, criticism, parody or commentary.

      “Defendants have taken well more from ‘Catcher,’ in both substance and style, than is necessary for the alleged transformative purpose of criticizing Salinger and his attitudes and behavior….Most notably, defendants have utilized the character of Holden Caulfield, reanimated as the elderly Mr. C, as the primary protagonist of ‘60 Years.’”

      The judge held the two characters were practically one in the same with the 76 year old “Mr. C.” often using precisely the same language as Holden and they just happen to share the same friends and family. This wasn’t for parody or critique. This was because the author probably knew it would be futile to approach Salinger and seek his permission.

      • Not having read the book (although since I live in Canada, I can probably buy a copy, lol), I can’t comment on the substantive nature of what the judge said, but frankly it seems to be a case where the court’s opinion is that the work is not a parody of Salinger or his attitude. Now, the consensus (generated by people who are, of course, raving fans of the orginal book) seems to be the book is not very good… so does that mean that a parody fails the “fair use” test if it is considered “bad” parody? And why are we letting the courts suddenly rule on the literary value of a book in order to protect Salinger from lampooning? Does the legal system now determine how much of the original material can be emulated for the purpose of parody, and if so, exactly how much is that?
        To my mind, having Caulfield act and speak the same as he did as a teenager when he’s a decrepit old man frankly brims with satirical possibilities (Peter Pan complex/Baby Boomer age crisis, anyone?).
        Regardless of the artistic merit of the book, I can’t help but think the court is getting a little too big for its literary britches in this case, and possibly setting a precedent that will open up a lot of satirists to lawsuits. That’s never a good thing in a free society – and I find it ironic and perhaps a bit hypocritical that Salinger, who had such issues with censorship, is now using the legal system to try to censor a parody.

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