The situation is muddled by differing copyright regimes in America and elsewhere. No one disputes that the copyright has expired on Conan Doyle’s work anywhere where protection ceases 70 years after an author’s death (he died in 1930). Yet when America reformed its copyright rules in 1978 to introduce a “life plus” model in harmony with the rest of the world for works created starting in 1978, it retained its older term-limited system for property created between 1923 and 1977. Works produced within that range have had their expiration extended to a fixed 95-year term from first publication; anything produced earlier is in the public domain. This umbrella of protection covers ten Holmes stories published in America for the first time as part of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes in 1927. These stories are still under copyright until January 1st 2023.
[. . .]
The estate also asserts some trademark rights on the Holmes characters, but Mr Klinger confirms to your correspondent that this was not part of the license claim. Jennifer Jenkins, the director of Duke University’s Centre for the Study of the Public Domain, says trademark protection would be inapplicable, in any case. “Trademark law doesn’t fit what they’re claiming to own or what they’re trying to stop,” she says. Ms Jenkins also dismisses any copyright claim the estate might have to any pre-1923 elements of Holmes’s biography. “The problem is that Sherlock Holmes and Watson are quite clearly in the public domain.” The estate did not respond to a request for details about its intellectual property.
[. . .]
An expert in the duration of copyright terms in America, Peter Hirtle of Cornell University finds no basis for the Conan Doyle estate to claim general ownership over aspects of Holmes from stories that are in the public domain. “Let’s imagine that the fact that Holmes plays the violin was included for the first time in one of the copyrighted stories,” he says via e-mail, “then it can’t be included in any new story that draws on the public domain versions.” But if the “Company” stories rely entirely on public-domain elements, then the estate has no ground to stand on, he adds.
February 24, 2013
February 17, 2013
In this story, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson encounter a true mystery: why the heirs of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are still able to pressure publishers for licensing fees long after the original stories should have been fully in the public domain:
It isn’t often one gets a ringside seat at a legal-literary battle royal, but it would seem that we’re about to bear witness to some activity in that particular area.
Of course, you’ll recall that recent legal battles in England have revolved around Undershaw, Conan Doyle’s home for about a decade that included when he wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles. [. . .] But this is wholly different.
The noted Sherlockian scholar, Baker Street Irregular and prominent attorney Leslie Klinger, editor of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, The Sherlock Holmes Reference Library and The Grand Game: A Celebration of Sherlockian Scholarship, to name a few, has filed a civil lawsuit against the Conan Doyle Estate to determine that the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are in fact in the public domain.
Currently, the so-called estate undertakes high-handed legal action to levy royalties and other payments from authors who use the characters in their own works. This is despite the fact that there are only 10 stories in the entire Canon that are still under copyright protection (in the United States). Klinger, for one, will not stand for this bullying, and has formally filed suit and issued a press release.
May 25, 2012
[Y]ou can see why men wanted to get the look. Perhaps they noted the effect Cumberbatch, by no means your standard telly hunk, had on lady viewers [...] and decided it must have something to do with the clobber. So it is that Britain’s latest men’s style icon is a fictional asexual sociopath first seen onscreen hitting a corpse with a horse whip. Surely not even the great detective himself could have deduced that was going to happen.
Alexis Petridis, “No chic, Sherlock”, The Guardian, 2010-09-04
August 13, 2009
. . . repackage it as sleaze:
“Years ago, a PI out of Chicago brought justice to a dirty town. Now he’s going to pay,” trumpets the cover copy for US publisher Hard Case Crime’s new take on the classic novel, which it will release in December. “The man needs the help of a great detective … but could even Sherlock Holmes save him now?” The cover shows a scantily clad, backlit blond, reacting in terror to a muscled man showing off a brand on his forearm. Arthur Conan Doyle becomes AC Doyle, “bestselling author of The Lost World”, while the reader is further enticed by the tagline that “They All Answered to… The BODYMASTER!”
Publisher Charles Ardai said he had been looking for a classic novel to “playfully repackage” in Hard Case Crime’s pulp style since he launched the press five years ago, keen to follow in the footsteps of the 1940s and 1950s, which saw a cleavage-revealing cover dreamed up for 1984 (“Forbidden love … Fear … Betrayal”), and a “bosomy lipsticked redhead” on the cover of Frankenstein. “This is the tradition we wanted to revive with our edition of The Valley of Fear — presenting something ‘good for you’ in ‘bad for you’ garb,” he said.