NY Times Takes Up The Case Of Sherlock Holmes And The Lost Public Domain... But Gets It Wrong

from the we're-missing-some-clues-here dept

You may recall that last month we had an interesting discussion here over whether or not Sherlock Holmes was in the public domain. The answer was not entirely clear, because you get different answers from different people. However, it looks like the NY Times is on the case, and has a an article looking into the ownership of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's creation. Unfortunately, I believe the NY Times gets it wrong.

While the article does detail the amazingly convoluted history over who owned the copyrights (and the various disputes associated with those rights), it gets a bunch of things wrong and (oddly) never seems to talk to any copyright lawyers. While the article does note that Holmes is public domain in the UK, it makes a blanket statement that Holmes is still covered by copyright in the US:
Mr. Lellenberg said that Sherlock Holmes remains under copyright protection in the United States through 2023, and that any new properties involving the detective "definitely should" be licensed by the Conan Doyle estate.
Lellenberg would say that, because Lellenberg is the literary agent for the Arthur Conan Doyle estate, and wants you to believe that. But, as we discussed last time, it's not true. All of the Sherlock Holmes books except one have now entered the public domain. And, yes, this creates quite a mess. But, in theory, anyone who created a work based solely on the public domain works, and which is not based on or derived from that last work, should, in fact, be legit without a license. That doesn't mean that Lellenberg (or some of the others who claim rights over Holmes) wouldn't sue, but it's not correct to claim that Holmes is still completely covered by copyright. The fact that the vast majority of his books are very much in the public domain is a rather important fact -- and totally ignored by the NY Times article.

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  1. identicon
    Trojan, 6 Jan 2011 @ 6:48pm

    New Evidence says, "Sherlock Holmes is public domain"

    Since some of the Arthur Conan Doyle The Memoirs of Sherlock holmes means that Sherlock holmes is public domain worldwide.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Memoirs_of_Sherlock_Holmes

    http://en.wikisource.or g/wiki/The_Memoirs_of_Sherlock_Holmes

    Breif Copyright Law for all countries that copyright laws
    internet address is listed below.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries'_copyright_length

    I am not sure if there has been any copyright restorations.

    For example Universal During the battles, Universal discovered that the copyright of the Lovelace novelization had expired without renewal, thus making the King Kong story a public domain one. Universal argued that they should be able to make a movie based on the novel without infringing on anyone's copyright because the characters in the story were in the public domain within the context of the public domain story.

    Afour-day bench trial in Los Angeles, Judge Manuel Real made the final decision and gave his verdict on November 24, 1976, affirming that the King Kong novelization and serialization were indeed in the public domain and and Universal could make its movie as long as it didn't infringe on original elements in the 1933 RKO film which had not passed into public domain.

    This judge is right because not everything that Sherlock holmes in in public domain but that does not make Sherlock Holmes protected by copyright.

    The Universal King Kong Movie Remake Case can be used if anybody ever attempted to prove that Sherlock holmes is actually in the public domain.

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