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24 September 2014Copyright

Sherlock Holmes back in court

The Conan Doyle Estate has kept up its legal challenge to a collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories by petitioning the US Supreme Court.

The dispute centres on an anthology of Sherlock Holmes stories collected by Leslie Klinger and published by Pegasus, due to be released later this year, which the Estate claims it owns the copyright to.

Both the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected claims by the Estate that it should receive a licensing fee from the publisher.

However, the Estate claims that because the courts were not able to view a final copy of the published collection, and instead relied on “Klinger’s assurance”, they could “not possibly verify” whether the author had infringed its copyright.

In court documents, the Estate said: “The Seventh Circuit never demanded that Klinger produce his proposed work so the court could compare it to the ‘incremental additions of originality’ in the final ten stories.

“Instead, the court relied on Klinger’s assurance that he ‘wants to copy the Holmes and Watson of the early stories, the stories no longer under copyright’. This was an assurance the Seventh Circuit could not possibly verify as true in absence of the actual, concrete work Klinger intended to publish.

“In holding that Klinger’s claim of invalidity could be decided apart from the ultimate issue of infringement, the Seventh Circuit created a conflict with numerous other circuits and previous Seventh Circuit decisions, all of which rejected similar invitations to adjudicate IP disputes in the absence of a concrete work.”

In July, WIPR  revealed that the Estate was planning to appeal against the decision.

The ten stories in the anthology were originally published by author Arthur Conan Doyle after 1923, a year after US copyright law came into force.

The Estate argued that it owned the copyright to the stories until 2022, but because the stories made use of details used in stories published before 1923, such as names and addresses, the Illinois court rejected its claims that the Estate owned the copyright.

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