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A Sequel in the Rye?

For the moment, J.D. Salinger has in hand an order prohibiting the distribution in the U.S. of 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, which is either an unauthorized sequel to (i.e., derivative work, based on) and an invasion of the privacy of the author of The Catcher in the Rye, more or less akin to the Seinfeld Aptitude Test, or a work of criticism and “meta-commentary” that is more or less akin to The Wind Done Gone.

Here is the Complaint.

Here is the brief in response to the request for relief, plus declarations on questions of “is it literary criticism?” (yes) and “will it damage sales of the original?” (no).

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog runs an interview that, oddly, highlights the more-hyped-than-real distinction between “prohibited” satire and “permitted” parody. 

Either way the case ultimately comes out, and I hope that the Second Circuit gets a shot at reviewing the trial judge’s final order, whatever it is, the case will make great teaching material.  Not because future copyright students will scrutinize it for its bearing on parody and satire, but because perhaps better than any hypothetical a law professor could imagine, it highlights the contrast between the strongest possible “moral rights”/personality rights vision of copyright law, based first, foremost, and finally on the author’s conception and control of the creative work of authorship, and a public-regarding vision of copyright law that sees creative culture as part of the fabric of human conversation.  Few authors are as obsessed as Salinger has been with control over his creation; few uses of prior works are as transparently designed to exorcise that control (and make the original work relevant to a modern audience) as 60 Years Later seems to be. 

The Wind Done Gone was produced in the same spirit, but the examples and the two sides of the debate don’t resonate quite so well with a modern audience, especially an audience of modern law students, as a case based on Catcher in the Rye.  For one thing, Margaret Mitchell is dead, and even in life she was of multiple minds about the celebrity of her work [the link is to the recent Molly Haskell account of the making of the film adaptation].  For another, few people today have read the original GWTW novel.  Salinger-the-recluse may not be well-known to current students, but many of them have had to endure Catcher in the Rye. 

Meanwhile, I assume that the full text of 60 Years Later is available electronically — somewhere.

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