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, 2 May 2011 @ 11:47am

    Doyle estate should only own image of Sherlock Holmes and rights and stories.

    Doyle estate most likely only owns the image of Sherlock Holmes and the rights to license the stories to Sherlock Holmes that are still copyrighted.

    For example the heirs can not purchase the Sherlock Holmes characters from the works that they own from Sherlock Holmes.

    I believe the internet address listed below confirms my theory.


    Jean never got the characters from Mr. Reynolds that were purchased by Nina.

    The heirs of the american copyright can allow people to purchase the characters to the Sherlock Holmes stories that are copyrighted.

    However the purchase rights to characters would be like exclusive rights.

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