Who “owns” Holden Caulfield? J. D. Salinger’s Suit Over ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ Sequel Goes to Court (pdf)
Both novels are set in New York, feature the same characters and use similar language. Mr. Salinger’s work opens with the 16-year-old Holden’s departure from a boarding school; the new book begins with “Mr. C” leaving a retirement home. Both end on a carousel in Central Park.
In a complaint of copyright infringement filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, where a hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, lawyers for Mr. Salinger call the new novel “a rip-off pure and simple.” Lawyers for Fredrik Colting, the new author, filed a brief this week saying that the work is more complex than just a sequel, noting that Mr. Salinger himself is a character.
The new book, the brief said, “explores the famously reclusive Salinger’s efforts to control both his own persona and the persona of the character he created.”
It adds: “In order to regain control over his own life, which is drawing to a close, ‘Mr. Salinger’ tries repeatedly to kill off Mr. C by various means: a runaway truck; falling construction debris; a lunatic woman with a knife; suicide by drowning and suicide by pills.”
The case is one of several in recent years exploring how much license the public has to draw on a classic work. […]
See also Save the Salinger Archives! from Slate
The judge, Deborah A. Batts of United States District Court in Manhattan, granted a 10-day temporary restraining order forbidding publication in the United States of a new book by a Swedish author that contains a 76-year-old version of Holden Caulfield while she considers arguments in a copyright-infringement case filed by Mr. Salinger.
[…] “It does seem to me that Holden Caulfield is quite delineated by words, that is a portrait by words,” Judge Batts told the lawyers. “It would seem that Holden Caulfield is copyrighted.” But the judge said she would take some time to reflect on whether the new book was sufficiently different from “The Catcher in the Rye” to fall under the protection of the fair-use provision of copyright law.
Even later: an NYTimes editorial — Holden, Young and Old (pdf)
Some adolescents, like Holden Caulfield and Huck Finn, were born to remain adolescent. But these two characters live, as it were, in separate legal kingdoms. Because Huck Finn lives in the public domain, outside of copyright, anyone can write another chapter in his life without penalty. What keeps Huck eternally young is, in a sense, the force of his personality and the strength of his author’s imagination.
Because copyright extends during the author’s lifetime, plus 70 years, the character of Holden Caulfield does not belong to the public domain. We have no doubt that no matter what the judge rules Caulfield, like Huck, will remain forever young, simply because that is how his author imagined him. In almost every battle between the original and the derivative, in copyright or public domain, it is the original that retains our affection.