Salinger's son stunned by veto of NH bill

J.D. Salinger's son said Wednesday he's stunned that a bill aimed at protecting his late father's privacy has been vetoed in New Hampshire, where the intensely private author of "The Catcher in the Rye" lived for decades before his death in 2010.

The bill would have specified that a person's right to control the commercial use of his or her identity is inheritable, and remains in effect for 70 years past death. It was filed at the request of Matt Salinger, who spent the last two years working with lawmakers to get it through the House and Senate.

"I'm stunned and just hugely disappointed that Gov. (John) Lynch saw fit to veto something that was the result of thousands of hours of well-intentioned, diligent, bipartisan work," Salinger told The Associated Press. He said the bill was in keeping with New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die" motto, which was part of what led his father to settle in rural Cornish.

"My father moved there in the '50s because it was beautiful but also because of a certain kind of respect for individual rights. He basically wanted to be left alone and do his work, and New Hampshire, he quickly sensed, respected that," Salinger said.

Salinger said he hoped to extend that respect by preventing the inappropriate commercial exploitation of his father's name and image. While his father's picture has ended up on everything from pencils to coffee mugs, Salinger described two T-shirts in particular to make his case.

One featured a photo taken by someone who ambushed the elderly Salinger as he collected his mail several years ago.

"A photographer literally jumped out of the bushes on top him ... then took this picture as my father was recoiling," he said. "My father looked terrified, looked angry, looked startled and looked a bit haunted. It's a terrible photograph, but that wasn't enough for this person who made these T-shirts. He then went in ... and made his eyes bright red, and made his face yellow — just made him look more freakish and wild."

Another T-shirt features a photo of a young, handsome Salinger, the same photo that now hangs above his son's desk.

"That photograph to me is every bit as upsetting as the former photograph, because he didn't want any of them out there," he said. "He wanted his privacy. It wasn't based on vanity. It was a very principled approach. He believed that nothing should stand in between the reader of a work of fiction and the fictional characters."

"If the reader has some kind of image of the author in mind, it changes things," Salinger said. "And that's just something I'm trying to not just respect but maintain however I can."

In his veto, Lynch called the bill overly broad and said it could have a chilling effect on legitimate journalistic and expressive works protected by the state and federal constitutions.

"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," he said. "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."

An earlier version passed by the Senate included specific exemptions for items protected by free speech, including news stories and broadcasts, plays and movies. Those exemptions were removed in the bill's final version, which instead says someone's "right to publicity" is "subject to limitations imposed by the New Hampshire constitution and the United States Constitution."

Salinger — a film producer himself — and other supporters of the bill argue that language offers sufficient protection for legitimate uses of someone else's name or image. But opponents, ranging from the New Hampshire Press Association to the Motion Picture of Association of America, argued they would face costly litigation without explicit exemptions like those included in several similar laws in other states.

"We're gratified that Gov. Lynch took a close look at this legislation and realized that it was important to have a bright line, safe harbor exemption for expressive works, including movies, television, newspapers, books and magazines. And we're hopeful that the New Hampshire Senate will take a second look at this when they have to consider the veto on June 27," said Vans Stevenson, the motion picture group's senior vice president for government affairs.

That's the day the Legislature will be in session to vote on overriding the governor's veto. It takes a two-thirds majority in both the 24-member Senate and 400-member House to do so.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Matthew Houde, said Wednesday he doesn't know whether the veto will be sustained. Noting all the outside groups that weighed in — from the motion picture association to groups representing professional athletes and video game manufacturing, he called the bill the "worst possible example of special interests beating well-intentioned legislation."

If the veto stands, "Now it just means people like the Salingers need to litigate to protect their family's privacy. And that, to me, puts the burden on the wrong party," he said.