A bill known as “Salinger’s Law” was vetoed last week by New Hampshire’s governor. The bill was so named because it came about thanks to author J.D. Salinger’s son, Matt, who has been fighting to keep control of his father’s image since his death in 2010. The bill would have made the right to control the commercial use of an individual’s identity explicitly inheritable.
Salinger published The Catcher in the Rye in 1951, and was perhaps just as famous for his desire to remain out of the media and live quietly in his New Hampshire home — a state he chose partly because of its motto, “Live Free or Die,” according to his son.
Matt Salinger insists that the proposed bill was in the same spirit of New Hampshire’s motto, but others, like an editorial in The Boston Globe, contend that “the veto promotes individuals’ freedom by allowing other artists to use Salinger’s identity, a freedom that benefits society at large.”
“The protections for free speech that are guaranteed to all citizens under the state and federal constitutions are central to democracy and a free society. Legislation that could have the impact of restricting free speech must be carefully considered and narrowly tailored,” Governor Lynch is quoted as saying. “I believe that the omission of legitimate, clear exceptions for news and expressive works will inhibit constitutionally protected speech and result in needless litigation to judicially establish what should have been made explicit in this bill.”
Detractors of the bill, such as the Motion Picture Association of America agree with Governor Lynch. Vans Stevenson, senior vice president for government affairs for the group, is quoted as saying that they would prefer to see exceptions for certain creative expressions usually protected by freedom of speech provisions, “including movies, television, newspapers, books and magazines.”
J.D. Salinger believed strongly that readers should not have too much information about authors lest those images and ideas interfere with getting to know the characters of a work. This belief is what is behind Matt Salinger’s two-year fight to get “Salinger’s Law” passed; he has described what he considers examples of commercial exploitation of his father’s name and likeness, including unflattering images on T-shirts.
The New Hampshire legislature could override the governor’s veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate; the date set for consideration of the veto is June 27, so stay tuned.
What do you think of this proposed New Hampshire law?