Friday, June 19, 2009

Caught in the Rye

J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye, is once more battling to protect his work. This time his lawyers are trying to block U.S. publication of a novel that has already been touted as "the sequel" to his very famous book. Salinger's literary agent believes a sequel to her client's novel would be worth a $5 million advance. The defendent is claiming the work is effective criticism of Salinger and thus protected by the First Ammendment (although the judge seems to be having trouble finding the critical parts.) The original Catcher has sold over 35 million copies since its publication in 1951.

The reclusive Salinger, who according to the article is now 90 years old, completely deaf, and currently undergoing treatment for a broken hip, has not published any new works since the early sixties. Catcher is his only published novel.

In a similar case concerning copyright law, Alice Randall wrote The Wind Done Gone, a version of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind told from a slave's point of view. The book was published and was on the bestseller lists for weeks, but Houghton Mifflin, Randall's publisher, was obliged to make an undisclosed financial settlement agreement with lawyers for Mitchell's estate. I liked how Morehouse College ended up benefitting from that one.

It's interested to see how these cases play out. I kinda doubt Mr. Salinger is going to win, but you never know. Btw, I would have quoted from the original AP release, but then I'd have to pay them $25.00. Which I find beautifully ironic.

I think instead I'll take my money to the book store and buy a new copy of Catcher in the Rye -- the original.

10 comments:

  1. This case is really interesting in me because it makes me wonder when it becomes OK for another writer to produce a "sequel" to another's work (or rewrite it from a different POV). For example, there are tons of sequels to Pride and Prejudice, starting with Mr. Darcy's Daughters. Why is that acceptable, but not either of these? Does it matter if the author is living or dead? Most agents or editors would laugh, I assume, if they were sent fanfiction. What makes these examples different?

    (Bear in mind I haven't done much research into this issue--yet--but I do find these questions interesting to ponder.)

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  2. This isn't something I've ever followed in any depth yet I've always wondered about it.

    One of my all time favorites is Phantom of the Opera. I fell in love with the story one night when I caught the Lon Chaney version on TV back in high school. I've since watched every movie and play version I could lay my hands on. I've read the original story more times than I can count and am working my way through the many re-writes and "sequels" I can find.

    I've always wondered what Mr. Leroux's estate might have received from all those who've come after.

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  3. Being a dedicated GWTW fan, I picked up a copy of The Wind Done Gone several years ago and as much as I love GWTW, I had to give Randall kudos for telling the missing parts of the story. Her book really could be construed as criticsm of the original. Somehow I don't think I will be picking up the "sequel" to Catcher in Rye.

    And Kristin makes a good point, why is Pride and Prejudice fair game? Once a novel has been published a certain amount of time does it become okay? Is it just simply that Catcher in the Rye and GWTW simply aren't old enough yet?

    DiDi

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  4. Kristin wrote: Why is that acceptable, but not either of these? Does it matter if the author is living or dead? Most agents or editors would laugh, I assume, if they were sent fanfiction. What makes these examples different?

    Simply put, P&P is no longer protected by copyright law and is in the public domain, which makes it fair game for derivative authors. Catcher and GWTW are more recent publications and still protected. It can be confusing, but basically the copyright has expired on anything published before 1923 (and if you want more info, there is a simple explanation of duration of copyright in the U.S. here.)

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  5. Sherri wrote: I've always wondered what Mr. Leroux's estate might have received from all those who've come after.

    Probably a pile of money, considering. :)

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  6. D. wrote: Being a dedicated GWTW fan, I picked up a copy of The Wind Done Gone several years ago and as much as I love GWTW, I had to give Randall kudos for telling the missing parts of the story. Her book really could be construed as criticsm of the original. Somehow I don't think I will be picking up the "sequel" to Catcher in Rye.

    I've managed never to read GWTW so far, so when the Randall book was published I didn't pick it up. I have a lot of mixed feelings about derivative fiction, and as with fanfic I really can't make up my mind as to which side to join. So (for now) I stand in the middle and observe.

    I explained the difference between P&P and Catcher and GWTW above so I won't repeat that. :)

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  7. I didn't even think of public domain! It seems such an obvious answer now. Thanks for enlightening me.

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  8. I had always wondered how Pride & Prejudice & Zombies could be published. Thanks for explaining about public domain. I sure hope Mr. Salinger wins.

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  9. I think Salinger should pursue this, of course -- but in my view, The Wind Done Gone was pure (and beautifully done) satire, and thus should have been free from the burden of copyright. The Other Novel it's supposedly damaged has needed taking down a few dozen pegs for many, many years.

    That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

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  10. I think I'd like to see Salinger win. Seems to me that the author of the 'sequel' is trying to fly on the back of Salinger's prestige. Create your own story and your own prestige!

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