Skip to main content

Copyright in Sherlock Holmes? It's a Mystery!

Here's a treat for those who love Sherlock Holmes (and who doesn't?): Back on Valentine's Day, an expert on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous character filed suit in Illinois federal court seeking a declaratory judgment that all copyrights in the character, his sidekick Mr. Watson, and any other characters or character traits that appeared in any of the works published in the United States before January 1, 1923 have expired and enjoining the Doyle estate from intefering with the upcoming publication of a book of new and original stories based on those characters.

According to an article from the Hollywood Reporter about the lawsuit, Doyle's heirs, under the aegis of a company called Conan Doyle Estate Ltd, are objecting to the new book and insisting that a license agreement be procured under threat of an infringement claim. Apparently, although the copyright to all of Doyle's works expired in the UK in 1980 (see ¶ 18 of the complaint), the estate contends that copyright in the character Sherlock Holmes remains in effect in the US until 2023! That would be some feat for a character first introduced in 1887!

Also working against the estate is a 2004 New York federal court opinion that, in dicta at least, determined that only nine works of Doyle's retained copyright protection under US law.

But wait! The recently-filed complaint concedes that TEN Doyle works (or at least any original aspects of those works) are still protected by US copyright laws! Is it nine? Is it ten? Is it all 60? Considering how unnecessarily convoluted, confusing, and restrictive the current US copyright laws are (thanks a lot, Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act!), I wonder if even Sherlock Holmes could definitively solve this mystery. The game is afoot!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Law School Exams: A Guide to Better Grades

It’s that time of year again. Law students across the country are poring over their class notes and supplements, putting the finishing touches on their outlines, and fueling their all-night study sessions with a combination of high-carb snacks and Java Monsters. This can mean only one thing: exam time is approaching.

If you’re looking for a brief but effective guide to improving your exam performance, the O’Quinn Law Library has the book for you. Alex Schimel’s Law School Exams: A Guide to Better Grades, now in its second edition, provides a clear and concise strategy for mastering the issue-spotting exams that determine the majority of your grade in most law school classes. Schimel finished second in his class at the University Of Miami School Of Law, where he taught a wildly popular exam workshop in his 2L and 3L years, and later returned to become Associate Director of the Academic Achievement Program. The first edition of his book was written shortly after he finished law school, …

Citing to Vernon's Texas Codes Annotated: Finding Accurate Publication Dates (without touching a book)

When citing to a current statute, both the Bluebook (rule 12.3.2) and Greenbook (rule 10.1.1) require a  practitioner to provide the publication date of the bound volume in which the cited code section appears. For example, let's cite to the codified statute section that prohibits Texans from hunting or selling bats, living or dead. Note, however, you may remove or hunt a bat that is inside or on a building occupied by people. The statute is silent as to Batman, who for his own safety, best stay in Gotham City.
This section of the Texas Parks and Wildlife code is 63.101. "Protection of Bats." After checking the pocket part and finding no updates in the supplement, my citation will be:
Tex. Parks & Wild. Code Ann. § 63.101 (West ___ ). When I look at the statute in my bound volume of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, I can clearly see that the volume's publication date is 2002. But, when I find the same citation on Westlaw or LexisNexis, all I can see is that the …