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Default The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Introduction by Sam Sloan

When reclusive author Jerome David "J. D." Salinger died on January 19, 2010 at age 91 in his home in Cornish, New Hampshire, the world breathed both a sigh of both relief and eager anticipation of what would come next. This was because Salinger had written one of the most famous books ever written, The Catcher in the Rye . Yet, following this great success, there was little from him in the way of follow-up. The world clamored for more.

J. D. Salinger published a few works after that, most notably “Franny and Zooey” in 1961 and “Raise High the Roof Beam” in 1963. Both were collections of material previously published. They were not great commercial successes, as most of the buyers were merely fans from his earlier work. After 1965, Salinger published nothing at all, nor did he authorize any more reprints of his earlier works.

Nevertheless, there were persistent reports that Salinger continued to write every day. In a 1974 interview with The New York Times, he explained: "“There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”

A neighbor said that Salinger told him that he had written 15 unpublished novels. Yet, it appears that Salinger did not intend that any of these books would be published in his lifetime.

What did he intend then? Unfortunately, there were also reports that Salinger destroyed and burned his own works. Why would he do that? His literary agent Dorothy Olding reported that she had exchanged 500 letters with Salinger over the years, but later he asked her to burn them all, which he did, while he also destroyed the letters he had received from her.

When Dorothy Olding died at age 87, her position was taken over by Phyllis Westberg of Harold Ober Associates, Inc. She represented him in the court cases Salinger often brought against those who were trying to imitate his works. Most notably, she represented him in the copyright infringement case he brought to stop the publication of “60 Years Later Coming Through the Rye” by John David California.

This book was a fake sequel to “The Catcher in the Rye”. It was a blatant copyright violation as the characters in the book were much the same as in the Salinger original, except that the lead character, Holden Caulfield, was now called “Mr. C”. In Salinger's original novel, Caulfield is 17 years old. In the fake sequel, Mr. C is now 76 and he recalls incidents mentioned in The Catcher in the Rye.

This case was brought just before Salinger's death. The affidavit filed by Phyllis Westberg gives us information about the condition of Salinger. She reports that Salinger is now “completely deaf” and he only communicates through letters. Regarding the fake sequel, Westburg stated that if Salinger were to write and publish a sequel himself, it would command an advance fee of $5 million dollars. She also wrote that famous movie producer Steven Spielberg had been trying to make a movie based on Salinger's life and on “The Catcher in the Rye” but had been blocked by Salinger from doing so..

Why would any normal man refuse an advance fee of $5 million, especially when he does not have to do anything for it except write a book he has probably already written? Saligner does not appear to have been wealthy. As he no longer authorized even reprints after 1965, any money he had from his earlier works must have been nearly exhausted. Even if he did not care about himself, surely he much have cared about his wife and two children. One must wonder if the answer to this perplexing question might be that he was simply insane.

Salinger brought many cases for copyright infringement, often on thin legal grounds.

Most notable was the 1986 case of Salinger vs. Random House, in the United States Court of Appeals. British author and literary critic Ian Hamilton (1938 – 2001) wrote a biography based on letters Salinger had written to friends which had never been published. Salinger sued to stop publication and to almost everyone's surprise won in federal court.

While Salinger was fighting the case to prevent the publication of the biography by Ian Hamilton containing these letters, his agent Dorothy Olding as a witness disclosed that she had never even forwarded Mr. Salinger's fan mail to him and that she had destroyed their personal correspondence in 1970, both at the author's request.

Salinger's 2009 suit to stop the publication of “60 Years Later Coming Through the Rye” was successful on the District Court level, as publication of this book was enjoined. However, on appeal the United States Court of Appeals vacated and remanded. The author and Salinger then settled the case. Under the terms of the settlement the author agreed to distribute it in Great Britain only. Sale of this book in the USA were made illegal, although a few are available. (For example, I bought one.)

Salinger wrote many stories and, in 1941, after several rejections, Salinger finally cracked The New Yorker, with a story, “Slight Rebellion Off Madison,” that was an early sketch of what became a scene in “The Catcher in the Rye”. The magazine then had second thoughts in part because of World War II in which Salinger was in combat, and held the story for five years before finally publishing it in 1946, buried in the back of an issue.

Everyone was surprised when the story and the book that followed it became a bit hit. Even today nobody can really explain why Catcher in the Rye is so famous and so popular.

This brings us to the copyright question. Copyrights exist on works of original authorship only. There is no copyright on color, design or font. These are excluded under the law. Thus, I can type this introduction in Times New Roman font, without infringing on the copyright of the New York Times.

Copyright law changed in 1978. Prior to 1978 a copyright expired on the 28th year, subject to renewal for another 28 years by the author only. After the expiration of the second 28 years, the work entered the public domain.

In this case, the original work was the story, “Slight Rebellion Off Madison” that was accepted for publication by New Yorker magazine in 1941 but not published until 1946. Does the first 28 year period start in 1941 or does it start in 1946?

When The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951, it was registered for copyright as “additional material”. This obviously referred to the earlier work “Slight Rebellion Off Madison”. The copyright page on “The Catcher in the Rye” states “Copyright 1945, 1946, 1951 by J. D Salinger”.. The date of 1945 obviously refers to the publication of "I'm Crazy", a short story written by Salinger and published in the December 22, 1945 issue of Collier's magazine that first introduced the character Holden Caulfield to the reading public. Salinger later reworked this short story to incorporate it into The Catcher in the Rye.

The two earlier stories are "I'm Crazy", an early version of Holden's departure from prep school that later shows up in The Catcher in the Rye. With minor alteration, much of this story is familiar to readers as the chapter where Holden visits Mr. Spencer. What sets this story apart is the presence of an additional Caulfield sister and the clarity of Holden's resignation and compromise at the end. "Slight Rebellion off Madison" is an early version of another scene in The Catcher in the Rye. The story follows Holden when he is home from Pency and goes to the movies, then skating with Sally Hayes, followed by his drunken calls to her apartment late at night. An early story, it is the first of Salinger's Caulfied works to be accepted for publication. Although written and accepted in 1941, the New Yorker withheld its publication until after the war in 1946.

As long as he was alive, Salinger refused permission to reprint these works and threatened lawsuits. However, since his death, a few brave publishers have reprinted them, including Little, Brown & Co. that put out a boxed set.. Also the story "Slight Rebellion off Madison" was reprinted in 2010 by Random House in Wonderful Town: NY Stories from the New Yorker.

Just before his death, Salinger filed with the US Copyright Office a document bearing the number V3570D891 as a “recorded document”. This document lists 39 titles that are being transferred from J. D. Salinger personally to the J. D. Salinger Literary Trust. It says at the bottom “This is not a legal document.” However, copyright registrations with a V prefex are generally videos and audio recordings such as movies and are generally not for the transfer of ownership.

Among the documents on the list of 39 are “Letters of J. D. to Judge & Mrs. Learned Hand” and “Miscellaneous letters of J. D. Salinger”. Judge Learned Hand died in 1961. The J. D. Salinger Literary Trust was owned entirely by J. D. Salinger, who was the sole trustee.

This list of 39 documents includes The Catcher in the Rye plus some unpublished or previously unknown stories or manuscripts. It appears that in most cases no original copyright was ever registered with the US Library of Congress. Apparently, Salinger was relying on the aforementioned court decision that said that even unpublished private letters to friends belonged to the author, not to the friends who had received those letters.

The question now is whether a copyright claim for previously unpublished, unrecorded material survive the death of the author and, if so, for how long.. Since Salinger did almost all of his published writing that we know about before 1950, they would seem to be in public domain now. But, with Salinger quickly ready to file suit, nobody can be sure and few were brave enough to test it.

There is a federal law that states that a copyright claim is not enforceable in court unless it is registered with the US Copyright Office. A copyright must be owned by a living person. Dead people do not own copyrights. It is often not easy to tell who owns a copyright, if anybody does. For example, it might be assumed that the widow of the deceased owns the copyright. However, if the widow had signed a prenuptial agreement prior to the marriage, then she does not get the copyright at the time of the author's death. This situation arises surprisingly often.

In Salinger's case, he was married three times. His first wife was a German woman about whom little is known. He divorced his second wife, Claire, on October 3, 1967. His third and last wife was a nurse who survives him. Knowing Salinger's proclivity for legal matters, it is more than likely that he signed a prenuptial agreement before marrying her.

In the nearly four years since J. D. Salinger's death, no living person has come forth and registered a copyright claim. One would imagine that anybody making such a claim would want to cash in on it immediately after his death. This is what everybody thought was going to happen. However, it has not happened.

Meanwhile, some works that would have caused Salinger to file suit were he alive have started to appear. Indeed, tomorrow is the scheduled date for the publication of the work “Salinger” by David Shields and Shane Salerno.. They originally planned to publish this book eight years ago, but could not do so because of the threats of a lawsuit.

Accordingly, I have decided to take the bull by the horns by publishing this reprint. I do expect it to be a financial success because there are more than one million copies of The Catcher in the Rye available in used bookstores or on Amazon. Prices for these used books are as low as $3.00. However, there are still a few buyers who would prefer to have a clean new copy rather than a marked up and tattered used edition.

If anybody wants to dispute this on copyright grounds, they need merely to register a copyright claim with the US Copyright Office. If such a registration is permitted (which I doubt will be successful) then they need only notify me of this and I will stop publication.
Sam Sloan
Bronx, New York
September 2, 2013
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