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Literary Property

J.d. Salinger Biography

Biographers of living persons often encounter reluctant or hostile subjects. Such was the case for biographer Ian Hamilton, whose completed manuscript about novelist J. D. Salinger had to be rewritten because Hamilton had violated COPYRIGHT law by quoting from Salinger's unpublished letters.

Salinger, the author of The Catcher in the Rye (1951) and several other acclaimed works, has lived reclusively since the early 1960s and did not publish any new works between 1965 and 1996. He has zealously protected his privacy, creating an aura of mystery and helping to establish his status as a cult figure.

Hamilton, a noted literary biographer, tracked down and quoted from unpublished letters that Salinger had written between 1939 and 1961. As Hamilton's book containing those quotations neared publication, Salinger sued, noting that as the author of the letters he retained the right of publication. Hamilton then eliminated direct quotations but substituted extensive paraphrases that tracked the original language very closely.

The federal courts agreed with Salinger, holding that Hamilton could write about the factual content of the letters but that Salinger retained the letters' "expressive content." According to the courts, Hamilton's paraphrasing invaded Salinger's expressive content and formed a substantial part of Hamilton's manuscript (Salinger v. Random House, 811 F.2d 90 [2d Cir. 1987]). Hamilton was forced to rewrite his manuscript. In the end, the book, In Search of J. D. Salinger (1988), was as much about the legal case and the pursuit of Salinger as it was about the novelist's life.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Legislative Veto to Lloyd'sLiterary Property - J.d. Salinger Biography, Should Biographers Be Allowed To Quote Unpublished Literary Property?, Further Readings