NEW YORK — A Swedish author whose new book was promoted as a sequel to J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" cannot publish it in the United States because it too closely mirrors Salinger's classic without adequate parody or critique, a judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts issued her written ruling in Manhattan after considering arguments in a lawsuit brought by the 90-year-old reclusive author against the publishers of "60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye."
Batts said Swedish author Fredrik Colting had "taken well more from `Catcher,' in both substance and style, than is necessary for the alleged transformative purpose of criticizing Salinger and his attitudes and behavior."
She said Colting's claim that he also wrote the book to critically examine Salinger's most famous character, Holden Caulfield, was "problematic and lacking in credibility."
She also rejected arguments that the depiction of a character in Colting's book to represent Caulfield 60 years later was a parody. She said in a footnote that Colting and his publishers made no indication before the lawsuit was filed that the book was meant as a parody or critique of Salinger's work.
"Quite to the contrary, the original jacket of '60 Years' states that it is '... a marvelous sequel to one of our most beloved classics,'" the judge said. "It is simply not credible for defendant Colting to assert now that this primary purpose was to critique Salinger and his persona."
A lawyer for Colting and SCB Distributors Inc., which would distribute the book in the United States, said the defendants were "very disappointed that the judge chose to ban Mr. Colting's book."
"Because of the Court's decision banning the book, members of the public are deprived of the chance to read the book and decide for themselves whether it adds to their understanding of Salinger and his work," the lawyer, Edward H. Rosenthal, said in a statement.
SCB Distributors hoped to reverse the judge's ruling on appeal and sell the book in the United States this fall, company president Aaron Silverman said.
Marcia Beth Paul, a lawyer who argued on Salinger's behalf, declined to comment on the decision.
The book was scheduled to be published in the United States late this summer, but the publication was challenged by Salinger, of Cornish, New Hampshire, who did not attend arguments in the case last month. The book has already been published in England. No legal action has been taken there to block publication, although distribution companies had agreed to block its shipment into the United States while the lawsuit proceeded.
During last month's hearing, Batts said she read both novels and agreed with Salinger that the new book was substantially similar to his, published in 1951.
She wrote Wednesday that Colting's narrative "largely mirrors" Salinger's and it was "unnecessary for Colting to use the same protagonist with repeated and extensive detail and allusion to the original work."
"The Catcher in the Rye," which has sold more than 35 million copies, tells what happens to the 16-year-old Caulfield for several days immediately after he is kicked out of a prep school just before Christmas and decides to explore New York City before returning to his family home.
Colting, who lives near Gothenburg, Sweden, said in a court document that he did not "slavishly copy" Salinger when he wrote his first novel under the pseudonym J.D. California.
"I am not a pirate," he wrote.
He said his book transforms "the precocious and authentic Holden into a 76-year-old man fraught with indecision and insecurity." The character, identified as Mr. C, escapes from a retirement home and experiences similar to those Caulfield went through decades earlier.
Wednesday's ruling by Batts was a temporary order meant to remain in place until the full facts of the case could be aired at a later trial. She said that Salinger was likely to succeed on the merits of his lawsuit and that he would face irreparable harm if the new book were allowed to be published in the United States.
Defendants can appeal the temporary ruling to the federal appeals court in Manhattan.