Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Phoneys?

Have you all read J.D Salinger's 'The Catcher In The Rye' at least once? Good, then. If not, get thee to a bookstore and read it NOW. It's one of those books you have to read before you die, preferably twice. Once when you're a teenager, because the protaganist Holden Caulfield is also a teenager and he speaks beautifully on your behalf, then once as an adult to admire the artistry of the book and also to remember what it was like being a teenager.

The book has been well protected by its author. There was one lame attempt at a movie adaption way back in the late 40's and it was so horrible, Salinger prevented it from ever becoming a film ever again. Even without the weight of Hollywood behind the product, the book has still managed to sell approximately sixty-five million copies worldwide and to this day remains a best-seller, and if you read it, you'll know why. Kinda like 'Grapes of Wrath' and 'To Kill A Mockingbird', it's an American novel that is very readable by both literary elitists and the hoi-polloy, but what gives 'Catcher' an edge (in my mind) on those two is that it is not at all earnest or political - it's introspective and emotional, and has the ability to to prod and tickle your intellect* as opposed to feed it a three course meal.

The reclusive authour of this masterpiece, JD Salinger, is currently very old, very ill and very, very angry right now. See, some bloke has written a sequel to the book, with Holden Caulfield now an old man, and Salinger is quite rightly attempting, through the courts, to place an injunction on the novel.

My initial reaction is to take his side and say, "It's his character, nobody can touch him." But we're in an age of 'interpretations', whether they be re-imagining of Shakespeare's plays, Superhero re-tellings, or Alien vs Predator B-Movies, or fantasy porn or even cosplay. Characters are being appropriated left, right and centre in many guises. I have a book called 'Ahab's Wife' which is a novel about, you know, Ahab's wife, but the estate of Herman Melville aren't suing. George Lucas doesn't sue people who write online Star Wars fantasies or run around town in Darth Vader costumes - but maybe he would sue if they made a seventh movie without him. Disney and McDonalds are very protective of their brand and characters and have a history of suing people who use/abuse their image, and hell, even Tom Waits has sued companies for using music in ads that sound like him.

There's precedents on both sides of the argument. I'm sure the bloke who wrote the 'sequel' was paying homage to Salinger, but it's backfired badly, and I'm sure Salinger is sincere in his love for his character and his lifetime of protection. I doubt there can be a law to settle this, and it's why IP lawyers rake in the big bucks around the world. It's murky.

But as much as I feel sorry for Salinger, I tend to think the 'sequel' should be allowed to go ahead. We drop Greek Gods into our poems and stories. They made a film called 'The Queen' starring Helen Mirren which was a fictionalised story about a real, living Queen who didn't sue. 'Characters' are in the public domain whether they like it or not, whether they are copywrited or not, and maybe Salinger should just accept it, as much as I can fully understand how much this would hurt him.

Perhaps it should simply be settled like this: Wait until the bloke dies. Then it's open slather, and if you make a film or book using his characters, a percentage needs to go to his estate. We can have a hundred lame sequels of Catcher, but on the goodside, hopefully someone (when Lucas dies) will re-do Star Wars episodes 6, 1, 2 and 3 and make them actually entertaining (but please keep Portman in the jumpsuit.)



* Though Mark Chapman took it too far when he shot John Lennon, holding a copy of the book, and reading it straight after shooting him.

54 comments:

Melba said...

I agree. I think it's pretty off to do it when Salinger is still alive. But it's either going to be great (a wonderful homage, which could boost sales of the original, etc) or, more likely, stink. In which case old JD can go "nyah nyah nyah nyah."

I don't think something like this is a total rip-off, but I do think that the original artist's estate does need to be considered, ie with a percentage of royalties as you suggested.

Perseus said...

According to The Smoking Gun, Salinger will accept five million dollars. I guess that's a way of saying, "Well, if you think your book is any good, give me the five milion bucks. If you don't think you can make that sort of money, then leave my characters alone!"

Alex said...

Sorry, but I think your examples are a bit weak. The queen isn't a fictional character (as you stated), Greek gods don't belong to anyone and online fan-fictions are not generally made with the intention of generating income. If some fans made a 7th Star Wars film and stuck it on the net for free, then I would say good on them. However, if a movie studio produced a 7th Star Wars film and released it in cinemas and on DVD and ran their own line of merchandise to go along with it, I would be more inclined to come down on the side of the original creators.

squib said...

Salinger needs to lighten up

I have only just read The Grapes. It would have to be one of the most depressing books ever

Alex said...

I would also like to submit my view that this age of interpretations is by and large a bit crap.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Sorry Squib, you know I love you like a sister but now we must fight to the death in the Cage o' mixed Metaphor.

Holden Caulfield is J.D Salinger's creation and he's well within his moral - if not legal - rights to tell this bloke to shove a sharp stick up his arse.

Perseus said...

Alex, I was saying 'The Queen' was a fictionalised 'imagining' of a real person / event.

The Queen didn't sue the film-makers, and so we must ask, if we can fictionalise a real person, why can we not also fictionalise a fictional person (eg: Holden Caulfield)?

Because of intellectual property, is the answer, but boy it is so murky. Does The Queen own the rights to her own fictionalised self? Does Salinger own Holden Caulfield? Does Shakespeare still own Hamlet? And so on. It's a wide-open debate.

Alex said...

Does The Queen own the rights to her own fictionalised self? Does Salinger own Holden Caulfield? Does Shakespeare still own Hamlet?

My view is that no person should own the fictional rights to any real thing, even themselves. I also think that anyone should be able to make any kind of work of fiction they like, using any kind of characters they like, but original creators should retain the commercial rights to their characters and ideas. Obviously, dead people can't own property, but it can be inherited, bought, sold and owned by entities other than individuals.

Of course, this leads to the question of real world patents and whether they do more harm than good.

Perseus said...

So Alex, as long as I throw Lucas a few bucks, I can write, direct and produce Star Wars VII without his permission?

Alex said...

So Alex, as long as I throw Lucas a few bucks, I can write, direct and produce Star Wars VII without his permission?

No, you can write, direct and produce Star Wars VII without permission so long as you generate absolutely no money from it. Lucas retains the right to say that you cannot SELL your movie or any merchandise associated with it, or use it in advertising or in any other way that would make you money.

Of course, this is my view of how things should be, not how they actually are.

Perseus said...

So in your ideal world, Channel 9 owe money to Carl Williams for 'Underbelly'?

Alex said...

So in your ideal world, Channel 9 owe money to Carl Williams for 'Underbelly'?

I have not seen 'Underbelly' but I was under the impression that it was (semi)based on historic, factual occurrences, which would not be controllable by anyone in my ideal world (see 'The Queen'). If 'Underbelly' were based on an original, fictional work by Carl Williams, then yes, Channel 9 would owe him money.

gingatao said...

You would think if the author of the sequel had any genuine respect for the creator of the original he would drop the project when he became of Salinger's displeasure. To continue with it when J.D. doesn't want it to happen is incredibly disrespectful. I hope it fails miserably and the publisher loses tons of money and the author disappears back into a well-deserved and total obscurity.

Perseus said...

Right, so we cannot profitably fictionalise a fictional person.

But we can profitably fictionalise a real person and not pay a cent.

Coming soon: "Alex: Portait of a Mass-Murdering Sheep-Raping National Party Voter" by Perseus Q.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Oh, come on Pers.

"National Party Voter"

That's going a bit far.

Alex said...

Right, so we cannot profitably fictionalise a fictional person.

But we can profitably fictionalise a real person and not pay a cent.


Exactly.

Coming soon: "Alex: Portait of a Mass-Murdering Sheep-Raping National Party Voter" by Perseus Q.

While I have absolutely no problem with this, I probably should leave the defamation laws intact for when creators decide to 'blur the lines' between fiction and documentary. National Party voter, indeed.

Ebony McKenna. said...

Huge copyright issues here.
Anyone can use Shakespeare because it has fallen out of copyright and is therefore in the 'public domain'.

Disney used characters like Snow White to launch his career, because she was in the public domain. Disney has now been dead for some time. Mickey Mouse will soon be in the public domain. Delicious irony, Disney's lawyers have appealed and now characters don't enter public domain until 70 years after the death of the author or something.

So even if Salinger dies, his estate will hold copyright to his characters for decades. Therefore no filming or writing or making of the moneys please or we'll see you in court.

As an author *ehem, are we talking about my book already?* I am working very hard creating memorable characters. My publishers, agent and I have the legal right to make a living from those characters and the stories I write about them. That's why you see copyright notices on the inside cover of books.

Somebody else may use the same names of my characters in their book, but they may not use the same characteristics or the same fictional setting. That's mine.

It is not a murky issue at all.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Ta, Ebony.

Very enlightening.

Puss In Boots said...

Sorry Perseus, but I read Catcher in the Rye on the plane over to Chile 7 months ago. It was one of the worst books I have ever read. I can't decide if I hated it or 1984 more. They are both so awful I just can't form complete sentences when trying to describe why I hated them so much.
What's so great about Catcher? What's with the love? I really can't understand it.

Alex said...

I am working very hard creating memorable characters. My publishers, agent and I have the legal right to make a living from those characters and the stories I write about them. That's why you see copyright notices on the inside cover of books.

Ebony, as an author, how would you feel about fans of your work writing their own fantasised stories set in your fictional world and posting them on the internet for other fans to read? Is the question of whether or not the other party is profiting important to you, or do you feel like your rights are being violated either way?

Pepsi said...

He just sounds like a lazy arse thief to me.

Fan fiction is a different beast entirely.

JD has the right to say who can / cant write and sell stories about characters he's made up.

The only good sequel/prequel/use of characters I've ever read was The Eyre Affair anyway, most of the others tend to be, well, rubbish.

Perseus said...

"It was one of the worst books I have ever read. I can't decide if I hated it or 1984 more...."

Puss, if I didn't love you like I do, you'd be dumped.

squib said...

Sorry Ramon, you know I love you too but sometimes you sound like you're 110. A fan fiction sequel isn't going to spoil the original and if anything Salinger should feel flattered. Same goes for Rowling

eat my shorts said...

Have you all read J.D Salinger's 'The Catcher In The Rye' at least once? Good, then. If not, get thee to a bookstore and read it NOW. It's one of those books you have to read before you die, preferably twice.

I think my ex still has my copy of this book. Which sucks, because he knows it was one of my favourites and he knows I hate lending books to people. Seriously, heard of a library? Get your own fucking copy, book stealing bastard!

Moving right along ...

Pepsi: I was a bit ‘meh’ about ‘The Eyre Affair’. I’m not entirely sure why, but no matter how many times I’ve read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I really like Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy at the end of it, even with all their flaws and stuff-arseing about. But after reading ‘The Eyre Affair’ I just wanted to slap them both.

Boogeyman said...

I agree that authors should have full rights to say who can and cannot use their characters in other works.

I mean, they go to a lot of effort to create a character with a believable, consistent backstory, personality-development, and to make you give a damn about that character.

Then some lazy-arse fanfic writter comes along and uses your character to bang out a sloppy piece of dross that is neither flattering to your creation nor yourself as the creator.

Let's face it - if the fanfic "writer" was any good, they'd create their own characters, not ride off the coat-tails of better writers.

Squib - I think fan fiction often does hurt the original, because a) it is of such crappy quality your original creation gets tarnished by association, and b) it creates a false canon within your established fan community that you, as original author, are somehow expected to respect and uphold.

Just look at George Lucas - the Star Wars fan community felt slighted when he made episodes 1-3 and ignored a lot of the rubbish canon that the fan fiction had created.

Likewise, J.K. Rowling shouldn't be expected to respect Hermione's fanfic pr0n debut with Sirius Black and a 12" cherry wood wand, as quality a piece of writing as it was.

Besides, as Ebony pointed out, copyright expires 70 years after the death of the author, or some such time period, and becomes public domain. So Mr Salinger-ripoff-er can just wait another 70+ years to release his piece of fanfic shite.

eat my shorts said...

Let's face it - if the fanfic "writer" was any good, they'd create their own characters, not ride off the coat-tails of better writers.

Damn fecking straight, Boogs.

If 'The Catcher in the Rye' needed a sequel, Salinger would have written it already or that part of the plot would have been incorporated into the original novel.

Boogeyman said...

Tho I did write a homage once called "Ketchup on Rye" starring Hold the Cauliflower, about a teenage boy's experiences in New Yolk city after being expelled from a prestigious cooking school, and his struggles to grow up and learn to eat steamed cruciferous vegetables on rye sandwiches.

eat my shorts said...

Can I borrow it?

Lewd Bob said...

Let's not forget that authors can write pretty crappy sequels of their own works. Joseph Heller for example.

I think discerning readers can tell the difference between the original and the sequel, and whether it was written by the same bloke or not. It says so on the cover. Get over it. It won't tarnish the original.

Boogeyman said...

Get over it. It won't tarnish the original.

Well, fortunately copyright law exists to ensure that there is nothing for me to "get over", and any assessment on whether it would tarnish the original is the sole province of the author or author's estate, not the imitative slob.

EMS - sure, why not. You got a big lunch to prepare, yeah?

Lewd Bob said...

Copyright was hardly my point. It's either copyright or it isn't. My point is that if an author chooses to write a book using characters established by another author, whether it's well written or dross, whether it's a complete rip-off or not, whether it rides the coattails or not, readers are in a position to make their decision. If the original author successfully sues, so be it, the subsequent writer should've taken legal advice. But I think if I decided to churn out War and Peace II: The Return of Natasha, the average person would be able to tell I'm not Tolstoy, despite the beard.

Boogeyman said...

Sure, readers can make up their own minds. But I think the writer should have an automatic presumption of ownership over their characters, and an automatic right to veto any derivative works, such that a writer shouldn't need to sue to protect their work - the derivative author should seek their permission first before attempting to publish their fanfic.

Anyway, I agree that there comes a point where a literary character can be considered in the public domain, and 70 years seems a good arbitrary line to draw.

So, since Tolstoy's been pushing up the little daisies for many decades, when can we expect to see War an Peace II on the shelves? Did they resurrect Natasha in a Pet Semetary?

Alex said...

a) it is of such crappy quality your original creation gets tarnished by association

Only complete idiots are going to think that one thing reflects on the other.

b) it creates a false canon within your established fan community that you, as original author, are somehow expected to respect and uphold.

Only complete arseholes are going to expect authors to respect or even read fan-fiction. People were pissed of with Lucas's prequels because they were shit. Also, a lot of that expanded universe stuff was officially licensed.

I won't argue that fan-fiction writers are lazy people churning out shit, as that is probably mostly true. However, I don't think that authors should be able to sue them unless they try to profit from their lazily churned out shit.

Lewd Bob said...

I've written 8 pages, Boogey. 1392 to go. Probably won't be ready until July.

Boogeyman said...

However, I don't think that authors should be able to sue them unless they try to profit from their lazily churned out shit.

Mostly they don't, largely because fanfic makes no money, and is confined to sad fanfic websites. But I think if a fan intended to release a imitative product that would hit a large audience, even if for free, the original author should still get a right to veto it, even if they didn't sue for ca$hola.

Hell, I'd love it if someone remade Return of the Jedi without ewoks, Death Star II or Luke-Leia sibling incest. But I don't think that if it were released worldwide completely non-profit, George Lucas should just take his lumps and deal with its existence.

But come 2080, prepare for my very own Star Wars VI featuring rabid Wookies with adamantine claws, a Luke-Leia-Han three-some that ends with Han shooting first, and Emperor Palpatine amassing an army of Daleks to destroy Jedis and Time Lords once and for all.

Lewd Bob - I expect it completed by the end of the weekend - unless of course you get delayed by platonic drinking sessions with 19yo kiddies.

Alex said...

But I think if a fan intended to release a imitative product that would hit a large audience, even if for free, the original author should still get a right to veto it, even if they didn't sue for ca$hola.

I just can't agree. I think that the limits on what people are allowed to write should be as broad as possible and I imagine that most fan-fiction getting about is chiefly a creative outlet for children and adults of low imagination and/or sad devotion. People who post things on the internet have little control over how many people eventually see it and trying to gauge some sort of arbitrary exposure threshold strikes me as being unworkable anyway. No, I'm afraid that I think Mr Lucas should take his lumps when Remake of the Jedi is released - most likely on youtube by four uni students weilding a cheap camcorder - but yes, even if it happens to be good and finds a large audience.

eat my shorts said...

EMS - sure, why not. You got a big lunch to prepare, yeah?

No. I just likes me food puns I does. ('New Yolk' was my favourite bit, btw.)


But come 2080, prepare for my very own Star Wars VI featuring rabid Wookies with adamantine claws, a Luke-Leia-Han three-some that ends with Han shooting first, and Emperor Palpatine amassing an army of Daleks to destroy Jedis and Time Lords once and for all.

Can I borrow it?

Ebony McKenna. said...

Hi Alex,
I would be rapt if my books gained so much momentum people started writing their own versions on fan sites. That would be the ultimate compliment.

However. I will not read what they wrote - because then I'd leave myself open to accusations of stealing from them and 'taking their ideas' so perhaps it's best I don't read it. Plus, it might be upsetting if they decide to have characters doing things I don't like.

But if it's not for profit, go for it.

Now - the fan site itself might make money from google ads etc, that's fine. But they can't charge money for reading material set in my world with my characters.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Ebony, may I suggest that your next book include characters from this site.

Boogeyman said...

Alex - a half hour youtube homage clip - Star Wars VI dun rite is hardly going to ruffle feathers. But alternatively, a 2 hour feature film released for free worldwide just might.

Ebony McKenna. said...

Ramon, my teenage audience might not cope if I base my characters from TSFKA.

But, feel free to identify with any of the characters when the book comes out. If I've done my job properly, readers will see themselves in the characters and want to be them.

*Quick, get her off, she's talking about her books again!*

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Maybe if you made Perseus a vampire.

Teenage girls are big on vampires just now.

squib said...

Not just teenage girls, Ramon. Robert Pattinson is spunky stuff

Perseus said...

Can I be a vampire with a chainsaw? I know it's only a Ryobi, but still...

Lewd Bob said...

What the fuck's wrong with a Ryobi? I consider them upmarket.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Not a tool traditionally associated with the undead though, is it?

Alex said...

Not a fan of 'Evil Dead' Ramon? Maybe a chainsaw wielding Texan-pirate-goth-vampire battling a rural community full of hostile rednecks while blogging about his love life?

Ebony, thanks for the reply. As someone who has never written anything of any consequence, I was interested to hear an author's views on the subject.

Boogeyman, I agree that most authors aren't going to bother with short homages and shitty web based fan-fics, nor is it particularly likely that any group is going to have the resources to give a free, worldwide release to a professional quality feature length film (The better example is probably with books). The question is, should the author retain the right to sue over any fan-fiction (I gather your answer is yes) and if a line needs to be drawn, on what criteria?

Puss In Boots said...

Sorry Perseus, but I just couldn't appreciate it. Granted, I was forced to read it in high school and haven't given it a chance since, but it's a rare book I read in high school that I didn't like, so I still trust my judgment that it was awful.

And no one has yet explained why Catcher in the Rye is any good.

Perseus said...

Lewd Bob: It's a half-sized electric Ryobi, which I have been assured (by E.Discharge I think) is the gayest of all chainsaws.

Pepsi said...

Puss, isnt the appeal all about well written common teenage angst stories, ie teenagers thinking nobody gets them, but the main character is their age & going through soemthing similair to them, so someone does get them & they can relate to this character, and its written with proper grammer and stuff so adults think its "good" too.

Though I dont think its really that relevant to the Gen Y/I folk anymore, but its still well written so the english teachers force them to read it, instead of Twilight/Potter (which are cracker reads but language lite).

Hey Shorties, dont you mean Jane & Rochester?

Boogeyman said...

Now Perseus, as well as being the only goth in the village, has the only gay chainsaw in the village.

Melba said...

I thought Perseus couldn't even work it. The gay chainsaw.

My daughter says I need to find something like Harry or Bella/Edward to write about. I tell her I'm not interested in popular fiction. I'm very haughty like that.

Hey, we never had that snobb-off, Perseus.

Ebony McKenna. said...

Hi all,
the plot thickens - the sequel writer 'J D California' is actually Wind Up's publisher Fredrik Colting and he thinks J D Salinger's lawsuit is 'ham fisted'

http://www.thebookseller.com/news/88369-publisher-hires-lawyer-to-defend-salinger-sequel.html

The publisher's lawyers are arguing it's an 'imaginative commentary not only on Salinger and his relationship to the character that defined him--but also on their joint status as cultural icons'

Nice try.

eat my shorts said...

Hey Shorties, dont you mean Jane & Rochester?

Heh! Yeah. That's what I get for speed reading.

Forgives?

I don't think I like being called Shorties, but I'll cop it on the chin this once because I gots my characters muddled.

Now I'm racking my brain trying to think of the title of the book I was actually referring to. It's like my brain is eighty and I'm not. Sigh. My brain is now telling me that I should have had my dinner at 5pm and it's up past its bedtime.