NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court judge called an unauthorized spin-off of J.D. Salinger's classic novel "The Catcher in the Rye" a "rather dismal piece of work" on Thursday and questioned whether the book harmed the famed novelist.
Lawyers for Swedish author Fredrik Colting, who penned "60 Years Later: Coming through the Rye," appealed a lower court ruling from July in favor of Salinger, who sued to block the book's publication in the United States.
A panel of three U.S. appeals court judges questioned lawyers for Salinger and Colting on whether the new book caused irreparable harm to Salinger, which would be legal grounds for blocking U.S. publication. Colting's book is already available in other countries including Britain, where it is labeled on its cover as a sequel to "The Catcher in the Rye".
"The fact is, that anybody can just go on the Internet and get the London edition," said Judge Guido Calabresi, questioning whether the Internet has affected claims of copyright damage to authors and created "a never-never land."
The judges in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not immediately rule.
Salinger, a famous recluse whose 1951 novel is considered one of the great works of American literature, has not commented nor submitted any deposition in the case. The book is a first-person narrative that relates teen-ager Holden Caulfield's experiences in New York City after being expelled from an elite school.
Calabresi suggested Colting's work did not compare favorably to Salinger's. The spin-off is "rather dismal piece of work if I may say," he said.
Salinger's lawyer Marcia Paul said her client had turned down offers from Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and director Steven Spielberg for a sequel. "Salinger does not want to authorize a sequel or a derivative," she said.
Colting's lawyer said there was no evidence his client's book would limit the value of any possible Salinger sequel, which could earn the author millions of dollars in an advance.
"Our position is this is not a sequel," said lawyer Edward Rosenthal, arguing the book is "fair use" commentary that is allowed for copyrighted works. "This is a highly transformative work about the relationship between Salinger and his character."
Beyond Colting, the other defendants were Swedish publisher Nicotext, Windupbird Publishing and SCB distributors.
Reporting by Christine Kearney, editing by Cynthia Osterman