Fredrik Colting, a Swedish author who was sued by J. D. Salinger’s estate several years ago for publishing an unauthorized sequel to “The Catcher in the Rye,” has once again been sued for repurposing an iconic work by a dead writer.
This time, he is facing a legal complaint from four literary estates, representing a pantheon of influential 20th-century novelists.
The estates of Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway, with the publishing houses Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, have filed a copyright lawsuit against Mr. Colting and his wife, Melissa Medina, for releasing illustrated children’s books based on those authors’ works.
The complaint, which was filed Thursday in Federal District Court in Manhattan, claims that KinderGuides, which are based on classic novels such as Kerouac’s “On the Road,” Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” are nothing more than “unauthorized derivative” works that lift the plot, characters and settings from copyrighted books. “Colting once again proceeds to brazenly infringe the rights of different authors, and the authors’ heirs and publishers, in complete disregard of copyright law,” the complaint says. “If defendants truly wish to introduce young children to the classics, there are literally thousands of public-domain works from which they could choose.”
Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, two of the country’s biggest publishers, joined the suit “to stand with the authors and their heirs to protect the authors’ reputations and the spirit and integrity of their novels,” the complaint said.
The lawsuit was reported earlier by The Hollywood Reporter.
Mr. Colting and Ms. Medina began publishing KinderGuides last year, through their company Moppet Books. The books are highly condensed and sanitized versions of classic novels, with colorful illustrations, that are aimed at children ages 6 to 12. They are also working on versions of Paulo Coelho’s best-selling novel “The Alchemist,” Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
In an interview with The New York Times last year, Mr. Colting and Ms. Medina said that their aim was to make classic adult novels accessible to children.
Given the suit filed by the Salinger estate, some in publishing were surprised that Mr. Colting would publish children’s versions of copyrighted works. The suit, over Mr. Colting’s novel “60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye,” a sequel to “The Catcher in the Rye,” was settled in 2011. Mr. Colting was required to stop selling copies in the United States.
In an email on Thursday, Mr. Colting argued that KinderGuides were intended as educational guides, similar to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, and as such bring added value to the works and do not violate copyright.
“We are doing nothing different than what the many other educational publishers providing study guides have been doing for many years,” he wrote. “We strongly believe that this case is without merit since we feel that we are protected by law to provide a literary commentary on these classic novels.”
But the two publishers and the authors’ estates took a dim view of that reasoning.
“The KinderGuides are clearly derivative and plainly infringe on some of the most treasured and valued works of our time,” Simon & Schuster said in a statement. “Anyone with even basic experience in publishing would understand these works are in violation of copyright.”