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Old 08-17-2009, 11:50 AM   #1
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J.D. Salinger legal battle and authors rights

I have been meditating on J.D. Salinger and his works recently and his very concerted efforts (through his dilligent lawyers) to prevent an unauthorised sequel to his signature work, The Catcher In The Rye which apparently is available for purchase online.
He is 90 years old and has recently broken his hip and is suffering otherwise from the effects of old age. How would such a man, who is publically known to be demanding of his privacy and control of his works, handle finding out or indeed comprehend that anyone with a web browser can get hold of a badly edited copy of Catcher with a simple Google search and not pay a brass razoo to read and share it?
Some of his unpublished works are so inaccessible that you have to go to a particular library in the United States and be watched while you read it in a special reading room, but it's so easy to rip him off with respect to his published works?
Is there a simple answer to this problem, or are we stuck with watching authors such as Salinger getting ripped off?
Would it helped if we applied to such authors and their publishers to have their works accessible through places like Amazon or Sony stores or would that make reader-author relations worse?
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Old 08-17-2009, 11:59 AM   #2
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There is an interesting essay in the New York Times if anyone wants to read more about the lawsuit: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/we...16mcgrath.html
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Old 08-17-2009, 12:37 PM   #3
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Many authors welcome others writing books based on the same world they initially introduced. In fact it is very difficult (if not impossible) to write an entirely original work.
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Old 08-17-2009, 12:38 PM   #4
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Personally, I've always been of the opinion that parodies were fine, but sequels/prequels tended to be cheap, especially the unofficial ones (but even most who are given the blessing by the original authors or estates). Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, is clearly a parody, and one that is in my queue to read, along with Pride and Prejudice, while you won't catch me reading the article mentioned "Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife". Just for the same reason, that while I've been a huge fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories ever since I was a wee lad, I don't read the unofficial sequels. The author intended things a certain way. The sequels change things, and often kills a sense of mystery that was intended. Parodies you go in, knowing full well, that it is a joke, and really in the end doesn't matter except to be enjoyed.
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Old 08-17-2009, 01:04 PM   #5
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It's a "cheap shot", IMHO, taking cynical advantage of the "fame" earned by the hard work of the author of the original.
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Old 08-17-2009, 01:22 PM   #6
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It's a "cheap shot", IMHO, taking cynical advantage of the "fame" earned by the hard work of the author of the original.
Who have said that that was the intention of the author of the new book? (to take cynical advantage) As the article states: "Yet the urge to write sequels and prequels is almost always an homage of sorts. We don’t want more of books we hate. The books that get re-written and re-imagined are beloved. We don’t want them ever to be over. We pay them the great compliment of imagining that they’re almost real: ..."
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Old 08-17-2009, 01:24 PM   #7
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If you're giving it away for free, like "Fan Fiction", that's fine, but not (IMHO) if this is a commercial publication that's being sold to make money.
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Old 08-17-2009, 01:34 PM   #8
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If you're giving it away for free, like "Fan Fiction", that's fine, but not (IMHO) if this is a commercial publication that's being sold to make money.
Aha, okay. I understand that - your first statement soundded a bit like a 'cheap shot' itself

And while I think I can understand, I can't say I entirely agree. At some point, a popular work becomes part of the common culture, and can/should no longer be completely 'owned' by its creator (I don't necessarily mean in a legal sense). It is also difficult to draw the line between an hommage and taking advantage of a popular work - it might still be an hommage, but might also sell well, simply because it's 'more' of a popular work.
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Old 08-17-2009, 01:41 PM   #9
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It's generally pretty clear when one is creating a "derivative" work, and of course copyright law covers that.

There have been some enormously successful "derivates" written. One which immediately springs to mind is Jean Rhys' "Wide Sargasso Sea", a "prequel" to Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre". Of course, that was in the public domain, so no copyright issues were involved.
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Old 08-17-2009, 01:52 PM   #10
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There have been some enormously successful "derivates" written. One which immediately springs to mind is Jean Rhys' "Wide Sargasso Sea", a "prequel" to Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre". Of course, that was in the public domain, so no copyright issues were involved.
It's not like it's unique to books either, the example I allways use is Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead", which is very much derived from Hamlet, and also stands alone in its artistic merit.
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Old 08-17-2009, 01:53 PM   #11
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And, of course, "West Side Story" is a retelling of "Romeo and Juliet".
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Old 08-17-2009, 01:58 PM   #12
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It's a "cheap shot", IMHO, taking cynical advantage of the "fame" earned by the hard work of the author of the original.
Or it's creating a new work based on known and established literary characters and tropes.

Nobody complains that new Shakespeare variants are "cheap shots" riding on someone else's fame. Nor that the Sherlock Holmes tv series & movies are trying to avoid the effort of creating their own original characters.

It can be argued that the original author has the right to prevent such derivatives, but that's not the same as arguing that derivatives are inherently less artistic than entirely new creations. (If those exist, that is. Harry Potter doesn't directly acknowledge Gandalf as part of the inspiration for Dumbledore, but the connection is obvious.)
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Old 08-17-2009, 02:01 PM   #13
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If the US copyright rules under which the original book was written and published had been maintained, Catcher In The Rye would have gone into the public domain in 2008, negating the basis for the lawsuit. But with all the extensions it won't go into public domain (US) until 2046 (and that's assuming there are no more extensions). In the Eu, it's at least 2080 (depending on how long Salinger lives). As EA points out, when should a work become part of the "common culture", to be drawn upon for other works? 95 years? 131 years? More?

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Old 08-17-2009, 02:10 PM   #14
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You can "draw upon" it in all sorts of ways, perfectly legally. You could write a book about someone who reads "Catcher in the Rye" and whose life is changed by it. That's not a "derivative work", and is perfectly OK.
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Old 08-17-2009, 02:30 PM   #15
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You can "draw upon" it in all sorts of ways, perfectly legally. You could write a book about someone who reads "Catcher in the Rye" and whose life is changed by it. That's not a "derivative work", and is perfectly OK.
My point is about derivative works. Since 1976, work published before 1922 were public domain and free to be used in any derivative manner. Since then, only one year's worth of copyright has slid into the public domain in the US - in 33 years! (and no more will slide into PD for another 7 years, currently - or 40 years total). I have great difficulty being concerned for a derivative work of a work that should have been in the public domain to start with...
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