Lawsuit Seeks to Put Sherlock Holmes In the Public Domain

To author and scholar Leslie Klinger, it's elementary: the characters of Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson are solidly in the public domain, and should be free for creators to use in new works. But after recent efforts by the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate to extract license fees, Klinger (who is also a lawyer) filed suit in federal court last week against the estate, asking the court to declare that the famous characters of Holmes and Watson are no longer protected by federal copyright laws.

In a statement, Klinger says that the litigation became necessary after the Doyle estate attempted to extract a license fee for a new book he was co-editing, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes (Pegasus Books) with author Laurie R. King, the bestselling author of the "Mary Russell" series of mysteries that also feature Sherlock Holmes. "The Conan Doyle Estate contacted our publisher and implied that if the Estate wasn't paid a license fee, they'd convince the major distributors not to sell the book," he stated. "Our publisher was, understandably, concerned, and told us that the book couldn't come out unless this was resolved."

Klinger says he is aiming to put an end to such threats, for his own work, as well as for others.

"In practice, major creators, such as Warner Bros. and CBS, have found it more cost-effective to pay a license fee rather than to challenge the Estate's position," Klinger told PW. "Similarly, our previous publisher, Random House, believed that it was cheaper to pay than to fight. Fighting means legal fees and delays, antithetical to big businesses. But I believe that it's time that someone takes this case to court."

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SOURCE: Publishers Weekly
Andrew Albanese
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