5 November 2014Copyright

Sherlock Holmes dispute may not be over, estate says

The battle surrounding copyright protection for fictional detective Sherlock Holmes may not yet be over, with the estate for the late author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle saying it may still sue after a disputed book is published.

Yesterday (November 4), the long-running dispute appeared to be over after the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal against a decision which paved the way for author Leslie Klinger to publish an anthology on the character.

But, speaking to WIPR, the counsel for the Conan Doyle Estate said that previous court decisions had acknowledged that it could sue for infringement after the book’s publication and that it “intended to do so” if its rights were violated.

Klinger and the estate, which manages copyright protection and licensing agreements surrounding the detective, have been locked in a year-long battle over whether the author should be free to publish the proposed book.

Under US law, which states that works published prior to 1923 are in the public domain, the majority of Doyle’s work is not protected by copyright.

But ten of his short stories, published after 1923, continue to have copyright protection until 2022.

The estate argued that those ten stories contained significant character developments and that any future representation of Holmes would constitute infringement of the entire collection.

Both the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected the claims before the Supreme Court backed both decisions in its refusal to hear an appeal.

But speaking to WIPR the day after the decision, the estate said that the Supreme Court’s refusal had “no effect” on the acknowledged copyright in the last ten stories.

It added: “Although the Seventh Circuit created confusion in allowing a declaration of non-infringement when no court had looked at the new work in question, the decision acknowledges that the estate can sue for infringement after publication.”

But Klinger, who told WIPR he was “very pleased” with the previous court decisions, appeared confident no infringement would take place.

He said the ruling enabled creators to be certain that if they used elements from the works not protected by copyright they can create new material about Sherlock Holmes and his world without having to “satisfy the wishes” of the estate.

“We believed from the beginning that we were not making ‘new’ law; rather, we were asking the courts to require that the estate follow the same rules as everyone else,” Klinger added.

Already registered?

Login to your account

To request a FREE 2-week trial subscription, please signup.
NOTE - this can take up to 48hrs to be approved.

Two Weeks Free Trial

For multi-user price options, or to check if your company has an existing subscription that we can add you to for FREE, please email Adrian Tapping at atapping@newtonmedia.co.uk

More on this story

4 November 2014   The US Supreme Court has drawn a line under the long running Sherlock Holmes dispute after it declined to hear an appeal by the estate of the late author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.