from the free-speech? dept
Yes, you read that right. A US court has banned the publication of a book, even though the creative expression in the book is unique, and it merely uses characters from another book (which it doesn't even name the same). This is a sickening result for anyone who believes in the First Amendment, the true purpose of copyright law and basic creativity. It's difficult to see any reasonable justification for this ruling. Much of the ruling goes through the four factors of fair use, focusing a lot on why the new work is not a parody (which is why the judge says it's different than the Gone With the Wind/Wind Done Gone situation). This misses the larger point: the work is entirely new. It's not directly copying any actual expression. The real problem here is the idea that only "parody" can be considered fair use in these situations. There's simply no reasonable logic to support that.
The rest of the discussion on the four factors fair use test is rather troubling. Most specifically, the judge's analysis of the third prong, concerning "the amount of the copyrighted work" being used seems to go to great lengths to explain how the new book uses a great deal from the old book, but bases this on similarities between the way the character acts, not any actual copying of expression (other than the odd word or phrase, which would certainly seem to be minimal actual copying). Similarity (on purpose) is not copying. Stunningly, the judge even points out that the stories have similar arcs (which isn't surprising), but to claim that because of a similar story arc there's infringement is incredibly troubling for pretty much any writer. After all, people write stories with similar arcs all the time.
Finally, and perhaps most disturbing of all, is her finding on the fourth prong, concerning the impact on the market for the copyrighted work, she actually finds that this weighs against fair use. Again, the logic simply does not add up. The judge admits that it probably would not negatively impact the actual demand for Catcher in the Rye, she actually ignores the fact that the opposite would likely occur. If anything, it will drive more people to go out and buy copies of the original to read (or, more likely in many cases to re-read) to go along with this new book. The judge's reasoning is that this book would harm the market for an actual sequel, but again, that's difficult to square with reality. If JD Salinger announced he was writing a sequel... that would make tremendous news, and it would be quite clear that people would rush to get the "real" sequel. Even if he were to license it (which appears to be the judge's main concern) to someone else to write (which seems insanely unlikely given Salinger's actions to date), people would quickly learn of the "authorized" vs. "unauthorized" versions. It's difficult to see how it would harm the market at all.
This is a very troubling ruling that seems to go against the very basics of copyright law in many, many ways. Hopefully, the ruling does not stand for very long.