U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts commented as she listened to lawyers argue whether Salinger had a right to stop publication this summer in the United States of a novel called "60 Years Later" by Fredrik Colting. He writes under the name John David California.
The judge said she had read both books and could rule that the substantial similarities left her to decide whether the new book made fair use of Salinger's work by providing commentary, criticism or parody.
She temporarily blocked publication of the book until she can decide what she called serious legal questions raised by the dispute. The temporary order makes it likely that a ruling would occur in the next month.
Edward Henry Rosenthal, a lawyer for Colting, argued that the book should be allowed to be published because it provided meaningful criticism of Salinger and his chief character, Holden Caulfield.
Batts said the issue was not that she was having trouble determining whether the criticism in the book was effective.
"Let me be clear," she said. "I am having difficulty seeing that it exists" at all.
Marcia Beth Paul, a lawyer for Salinger, said the book copied her client's book and was "pure commercialism," meant to capitalize on the spectacular success of Salinger's classic novel about the first days of a disaffected teenager's life after he is thrown out of a boarding school and has a series of experiences in New York City.
She said it was wrong of the defendants to claim that blocking publication of the book because it infringes copyrights would be the same as banning a book.
"Make no mistake about it," Rosenthal charged in response. "This is banning the book."
He added: "To enjoin the book before a full exploration of the book is a prior restraint that raises very serious First Amendment questions."
Salinger lives a reclusive life in rural New Hampshire. He has not published a book in decades and has rarely been heard from except when he takes legal actions to protect his works.
In "60 Years Later," scheduled to be published in Great Britain this summer and in the United States soon after, a character very much like Caulfield is 76 years old.
Rosenthal did not dispute that the character is meant to be Caulfield years later. In the book, the character, identified as "Mr. C," escapes from a retirement home and has experiences similar to those Caulfield went through decades earlier.
By Larry Neumeister