jd salinger photo, jd salinger, salinger catcher in the rye
A photo of J.D. Salinger taken around
the time "Catcher in the Rye" was

Salinger Sues Fan Over Copyright Issues—Will He Win?

June 04, 2009 08:00 AM
by Haley A. Lovett
Seeking to stop publication of an unauthorized sequel to “Catcher in the Rye,” 90-year-old author J.D. Salinger is heading to court to protect his privacy and work, as he’s done in the past.

Is “60 Years Later” an Infringement on “Catcher”?

On June 1, lawyers for author J.D. Salinger filed for an injunction on the publication of a book they say is a copycat of Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” the Associated Press reports.

The book in question, titled “60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye,” was written by an author using the pseudonym John David California. The book follows an elderly Caulfield through his escape from a retirement home, and includes a character version of Salinger himself.

In an interview with Law Blog writer Ashby Jones, copyright lawyer Marc Reiner seemed unconvinced that Salinger had a winning case against the book. Reiner said that while Caulfield is probably a copyrightable character, “60 Years Later” may qualify as a parody in the court’s eyes, as the “sequel” puts the main character as an old man and may show a “transformative” quality to the original—to what extent the book in question transforms the original work can affect whether it is seen as infringement.

This suit is not the first legal action Salinger has taken against a writer, according to the AP. Salinger sued a journalist in the ’80s for trying to sell a faked interview with him. Salinger later tried to stop publication of a biography about him due to quotes from Salinger’s unpublished letters being included in the work (the book was later published without the letters). He also prevented the BBC from making a television version of “Catcher in the Rye” in 2003.

Background: Books, movies involved in copyright infringement suits

Copyright cases are fairly common in the United States, however court rulings often differ on what constitutes fair use and what is copyright infringement.

In a case similar to Salinger’s, the estate of “Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell sued author Alice Randall for writing her “sequel,” “The Wind Done Gone.” Law professor Dr. Matthew Rimmer told the Austrian Library and Information Association that the novel belonged to a literary trend called “shadow texts,” where authors rewrite famous texts from a different point of view. The novel was at first judged by a district court to be infringement, but upon appeal the book was found to be protected as a parody and as a work of comment and criticism on the original.

A recent case of copyright infringement involved J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series and a fan-produced guidebook to the series called the “Harry Potter Lexicon.” The lexicon, which was already available to fans via its Web site, was blocked from print publication in September of 2008 after a court ruled in favor of Rowling that the book copied a sufficient amount of the “Harry Potter” works without making commentary on or transforming the original work.

A case similar to Rowling’s that was brought to court involved a trivia book, the “Seinfeld Aptitude Test,” (or SAT), about the popular television series Seinfeld. The court, as in the lexicon case, found that the trivia book did not add any new content, comment or insight to the series, and merely copied content from characters and scenes in the show.

Key Players: J.D. Salinger

Born Jerome David Salinger on Jan. 1, 1919, in New York City, J.D. attended Valley Forge Military Academy. He attended NYU, but did not receive his degree. According to, as a young man Salinger worked on a cruise ship and later served in the army. The Guardian reports that before he entered the army Salinger fell in love with a woman who later married Charlie Chaplin, a move that may have created his disdain for the movies. Although Salinger is well known because of his book, “The Catcher in the Rye,” it is his only novel; the majority of his work is in short story format. Little is know about Salinger because he intentionally stays out of the public eye, and has been known to take legal action to prevent publication of any biography about him or publication of any of his unpublished works.

Reference: Copyright and Free Use

For more information about copyright and free use issues, visit the Free Use Media Guide as well as the Plagiarism Prevention Guide.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines