Author of Sequel to

06/05/2009 / Molly Eichten

Author J.D. Salinger filed a lawsuit in New York on June 1, 2009, to stop the publication of an unauthorized sequel to Salinger's classic 1951 American novel The Catcher in the Rye. The complaint alleges that the sequel, 60 Years Later: Coming through the Rye, infringes Salinger's copyrights in both The Catcher in the Rye and the main character Holden Caulfield. Salinger has been fiercely protective of his intellectual property in his Holden Caulfield character and Catcher, and has never authorized any works to be created using either as a basis for a new work.

A likely issue in this case will be whether the fictional character Holden Caulfield is copyrightable. Courts have previously established that a fictional character must be well-developed in order to be entitled to copyright protection. For example, a fictional character of an angst-ridden teenager by itself would not be copyrightable. However, a fictional character of an angst-ridden teenager with specific behavior, speech, and thought patterns may form the basis for a well-developed character. The Salinger complaint set forth several specific characteristics of the Holden Caulfield character to support its argument that Caulfield is a fully delineated character and entitled to copyright protection. The complaint characterized the sequel as "a rip-off pure and simple" and listed several ways the sequel's main character "Mr. C" is substantially similar to Holden Caulfield.

Another likely issue in the case will be whether the sequel will be deemed a parody of The Catcher in the Rye. Creating a parody of a copyrighted work is an available "fair use" defense to copyright infringement. Courts look at four factors to determine whether a new work constitutes fair use, one of which is how "transformative" the new work is compared to the original. The more a parody "transforms" the original work, the more likely the parody will be allowed under copyright law. If this case proceeds, it may turn on whether the author of the sequel, who used the pseudonym John David California, sufficiently "transformed" the character of Holden Caulfield enough to deem the sequel to be a parody of The Catcher in the Rye.

-- Originally published in Larkin Hoffman's IP/Tech Buzz.