Salinger And the Public Domain

Andrew AlbaneseThe legal definition of “public domain” is property that is available or accessible to the public, such as a National Park. In copyright, “P.D.” refers to inventions, writings, recordings or photographs not protected by intellectual property law.

Often enough, the public domain can often seem to lie just beyond the horizon – like a mirage in the desert or the famed golden city of Eldorado. If a traveler should ever manage to reach it, the theory states that no return journey is possible. Yet a lawsuit filed earlier this week suggests that when it comes to J.D., the P.D. is not always inescapable.

“Memphis-based independent publisher, The Devault-Graves Agency has sued the J.D. Salinger Literary Trust in a Tennessee court, claiming that the estate has illegally interfered with the press’s attempts to publish and distribute international editions of its collection of early Salinger short stories, Three Early Stories,” says Andrew Albanese, Publishers Weekly senior writer.

As PW’s Clare Swanson reported, Devault-Graves released their U.S. edition of these early Salinger stories, in July 2014, after they fell into the public domain, and without objection from the Salinger estates. As the publisher attempts to sell the work abroad, though, the Salinger estate has threatened legal action, even arguing that while the stories are in the public domain in the U.S., they are not in the public domain in other territories.

Every Friday, CCC’s “Beyond the Book” speaks with the editors and reporters of “Publishers Weekly” for an early look at the news that publishers, editors, authors, agents and librarians will be talking about when they return to work on Monday.

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