A Tennessee court's decision to transfer a lawsuit filed against the Salinger Literary Trust to New Hampshire could be a major victory for the heirs of J.D. Salinger.
Earlier this year, the Devault-Graves Agency, a publisher, filed a lawsuit against the Salinger Literary Trust in Tennessee, claiming that the trust was interfering with the publisher's ability to license its edition of J.D. Salinger: Three Early Stories for publication in foreign countries. The court in Tennessee has determined that it lacks jurisdiction to hear the case and has ordered that it be transferred to the late author's home state of New Hampshire.
Publisher's Weekly reported on this development in "Court Punts Salinger Copyright Case to New Hampshire."
The details of this lawsuit are complex. The stories in the book are part of the public domain in the United States, which means they do not have copyright protection and anyone can publish them.
The publishing agency contends that, according to an international treaty called the "Berne Convention," if a work does not have copyright protection in its country of origin, it does not have protection in other countries. Thus, under this theory, the Salinger Literary Trust has no right to try to block the book's publication outside the United States.
On the other hand, the trust claims that the Berne Convention is more complicated and the copyright laws of foreign countries must be taken into account when determining if a work has protection in those countries. A recent decision by a German court lends credence to this position.
The publisher's lawsuit is expected to have a difficult battle in New Hampshire courts.
Other estates that hold copyrights will want to watch this case closely to determine whether or not they have the right to protect works in foreign countries even after those works fall into the public domain in the United States.
Contact a qualified estate planning attorney if you own any intellectual property rights.
Reference: Publisher's Weekly (October 22, 2015) "Court Punts Salinger Copyright Case to New Hampshire."