Judge rules for J.D. Salinger in copyright case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The publication of a book that novelist J.D. Salinger said ripped off his classic “The Catcher in the Rye” was halted by a U.S. federal judge on Wednesday.

The judge ruled in favor of Salinger after the reclusive writer sued last month to block publication in the United States of “60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye” written by Swedish author Fredrik Colting under the pen name John David California.

U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts said Colting’s book borrowed “quite extensively from ‘Catcher’, both substantively and stylistically.” A character in Colting’s novel -- Mr. C -- was an infringement on Salinger’s main character, Holden Caulfield, she said.

“Defendants have utilized the character of Holden Caulfield, reanimated as the elderly Mr. C, as the primary protagonist of ‘60 Years’,” the judge said.

Beyond Colting, the other defendants were Swedish publisher Nicotext and Windupbird Publishing. The book has already been published in Britain and the ruling has no effect there.

“We are very disappointed that the judge chose to ban Mr. Colting’s book,” said the defendants’ lawyer Edward Rosenthal, calling it “an important critical work about ‘The Catcher in the Rye’.”

“Our clients will appeal the decision on an expedited basis,” he said.

Lawyers for Salinger declined to comment. At the hearing, they had argued the new book was a sequel to Salinger’s popular 1951 coming-of-age tale about a cynical teenager who wanders New York for several days.

Colting’s book begins with Mr. C leaving a retirement home 60 years later. Both books end near a carousel in Central Park.

Colting’s lawyers had argued the book came under a fair use exception because it was literary commentary or parody -- an idea Batts rejected.

“The court finds that ‘60 Years’ contains no reasonably perceived parodic character as to ‘Catcher’ and Holden Caulfield,” the judge ruled.

Salinger, 90, who has health problems, has lived for decades out of the public eye. Since publishing two novellas in 1963, the author has published little, although a former lover said he wrote every day and had completed two novels.

“It seems to me that Salinger has become as famous for wanting not to be famous as he has for his writings,” Batts said.

Editing by Michelle Nichols and John O’Callaghan