Update – Unauthorized Sequel to Catcher in the Rye Permanently Enjoined, by Agreement

In a prior series of posts (see “fictional characters” category), I wrote about a so-called unauthorized sequel to J.D. Salinger’s classic Catcher in the Rye that the trial court ordered enjoined from publication. The publisher took the case on appeal, and the appellate court overturned that decision, ruling that the injunction could remain in place for ten days after the entry of the remand order. Salinger v. Colting, No. 09-2878 (2d Cir. April 10, 2010) (copy available on FindLaw). Following stipulated extensions of the injunction, the case finally settled for undisclosed terms.

In a “Permanent Injunction and Final Order on Consent” filed on December 14, 2010, the Southern District of New York entered a permanent injunction against the manufacture, publication, distribution, shipment, advertisement, promotion, sale or other dissemination of the book – “or any portion thereof” – in the U.S. Salinger et al. v. Colting, writing under the name John David California, et al., Civil Action No. 09-5095, ECF No. 55 (Pacer access required). The parties also agreed to forego any appeals, thereby suggesting that unless one of the parties violates the settlement agreement, we will not be seeing this particular title on U.S. shores while the Agreement is in force. (A quick Internet search reveals that the book remains available in certain markets overseas.) The Order also requires the clerk of court to close this case.

This agreed-upon settlement means that despite defendants’ victory in the appellate court, there must have been some risk remaining that they might lose at trial. Because the terms of the settlement were undisclosed, one can only speculate that this risk must have been significant enough to balance the expense they already incurred in producing the book, including publicity and advertising, and not receiving sales revenues for it. Perhaps the risk of monetary damages (17 U.S.C. § 504) or fee shifting (awarding attorneys’ fees and costs to the prevailing party – 17 U.S.C. § 505) prompted the decision.

The reversal on appeal of the Court’s initial injunction has been covered in news articles and blogs (see, e.g., New York Times coverage of the case and the appeal), but I have not seen much about the settlement and agreed-to permanent injunction.

Court Enters Order Banning Publication of Unauthorized Sequel to Catcher in the Rye

Updating a prior posting: When is a Fictional Character Copyrightable?

On July 1, 2009, District Court Judge Deborah Batts entered an Order in the Salinger v. Fredrik Coulting, et al., No. 09-CV-5095 (S.D.N.Y.) case holding that the new book focused on Holden Caufield as a 76-year-old man did not fit within the narrow “fair use” exception to copyright infringement. (Copy of the complaint can be found here.) The order also preliminarily enjoins the sequel’s author (publishing under the pseudonym J.D. California) and publisher from “manufacturing, publishing, distributing, shipping, advertising, promoting, selling or otherwise disseminating any copy of 60 Years [the book] or any portion thereof, in or to the United States.” Order at 37. The injunction may become permanent following a full trial on the merits.

Essentially, the court rejected defendants’ arguments that the “sequel” was a parody commenting on the original work and on the nature of Holden Caufield’s character. Importantly for the analysis of whether fictional characters are separately copyrightable, the Court held that “Plaintiff possesses a valid Copyright in the novel The Catcher in the Rye, that the character of Holden Caulfield . . . is sufficiently delineated so that a claim for infringement will lie.” Opinion, at 2 (citations omitted).

The opinion also addresses in detail the fair use factors and whether any other part of the sequel could be considered an acceptable parody, and thus not a work infringing the original copyright.

Additional coverage of the opinion can be found in the following sources, among other places:

* Ashby Jones, “Holden Caulfield Stays Young: Salinger Wins Copyright Suit,” The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog, July 1, 2009.

* Sewell Chan, Ruling for Salinger, “Judge Bans ‘Rye’ Sequel,” New York Times, July 1, 2009.

* Larry Neumeister, “Judge blocks publication of Salinger spinoff book,” Associated Press, July 1, 2009 (as published on FindLaw.com)

When is a Fictional Character Copyrightable?

Until recently, there was no easy answer to this question, except to say, “it depends on how well defined the particular character is.” On June 17, 2009, however, a federal district court in New York considering J.D. Salinger’s motion for a temporary restraining order blocking the publication and distribution of a “sequel” to his 1951 classic Catcher in the Rye ruled from the bench during oral argument that the character of Holden Caulfield is copyrightable on its own. (The Court’s opinion is not yet available through PACER, although many articles have reported the nature of the Court’s opinion in granting the TRO; the formal opinion apparently will be filed within the next 10 days.) See, e.g., Ashby Jones, “Judge Halts Publication of ‘Catcher’ Sequel, For Now,” Wall Street Journal Law Blog, June 17, 2009.

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