Judge Bans Catcher in the Rye Sequel

Via NYT, last week:

Mr. Colting’s lawyers argued, among other things, that the new novel, titled “60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye,” did not violate copyright laws because it amounted to a critical parody that had the effect of transforming the original work.

Judge Batts rejected that argument, writing:

To the extent Defendants contend that 60 Years and the character of Mr. C direct parodic comment or criticism at Catcher or Holden Caulfield, as opposed to Salinger himself, the Court finds such contentions to be post-hoc rationalizations employed through vague generalizations about the alleged naivety of the original, rather than reasonably perceivable parody.

The judge’s ruling weighed literary arguments made by both sides in the dispute. “To the extent Colting claims to augment the purported portrait of Caulfield as a ‘free-thinking, authentic and untainted youth,’ and ‘impeccable judge of the people around him’ displayed in Catcher by ’show[ing] the effects of Holden’s uncompromising world view,’” Judge Batts wrote, citing a memo submitted by Mr. Colting, “those effects were already thoroughly depicted and apparent in Salinger’s own narrative about Caulfield.”

I don’t know if the judge could have ruled differently — I haven’t read the work, and I understand the constraints of current precedent.

But I always come back to the Copyright clause in the Constitution:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

Whether or not this particular work was any good, the decision actually chills “the Progress of Science and useful Arts” by dissuading anyone from attempting something better that plays off the original.

It’s been 57 years since the publication of CITR, and the only thing copyright law is doing right now is protecting Salinger’s ego. Given that he hasn’t written a word in about a half-century, I’m not sure that that is really contributing to the “progress of the arts”.

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