January 2014: News Release re Appeal

To download a PDF of the following, click here.

The Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. has filed a Notice of Appeal in the U.S. District Court that ruled in favor of Leslie S. Klinger in a declaratory relief action on the copyright status of the Sherlock Holmes Canon.

Chief Judge Rubén Castillo ruled that all copyright-protected elements of the Canon that were first introduced in stories published in the United States prior to 1923 are now in the public domain, and “Klinger and the public may use the Pre-1923 Story Elements without seeking a license.”  Indeed, the Court found that “[t]he evidence presented to the Court as to this first proposition is ‘so one-sided’ that Klinger must prevail as a matter of law.”

By filing a Notice of Appeal, the Conan Doyle Estate is entitled to present its legal arguments to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a formal brief.  However, the deadline for filing the brief is March 3, 2014, and no appellate brief has yet been filed. For that reason, Klinger and his counsel do not yet know what arguments will be raised on appeal by the Estate if, in fact, the Estate proceeds with the appeal.  If the CDE pursues its appeal, Klinger will file an appellate brief in response, and the matter will be argued and decided in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the meantime, the Order of the District Court remains in full force and effect unless the CDE seeks a stay of enforcement.  In that case, Klinger will oppose any request for a stay of enforcement of the Order pending appeal and will seek a bond if the Order is stayed.

Klinger is also preparing a motion to be filed in U.S. District Court to require the Estate to pay the fees and costs he incurred in bringing the declaratory relief action in District Court.  He will also ask the Court of Appeals to require the Estate to post a bond as security against his costs in litigating the appeal.

“Although the Estate has issued some self-serving press releases, we do not really know what they regard as reversible error in the decision of Judge Castillo,” says Klinger.  “They can’t be encouraged by the Court’s observation that their legal theory is ‘novel,’ a word that is often used in legal circles to indicate that an argument is imaginative but unsupportable in the law.”

“We are confident that the decision of Judge Castillo is fully supported by the facts and the applicable law, and we expect the Order to be upheld on appeal,” says Klinger.  “We will continue to carry the burden of litigating the public-domain status of the pre-1923 stories, not only for the benefit of my own books but for all creators who wish to draw on the public-domain elements of the Canon in their own work.”



January 2014: Appeal

Conan Doyle Estate Appeals Sherlock Holmes Copyright Decision

By Benjamin Allison
Counsel for the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd.

Santa Fe, N.M. (January 21, 2014) — The Conan Doyle Estate Ltd., owned and run by the family of writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, has appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals from a lower court decision in Klinger v Conan Doyle Estate Ltd.  The lower court decision held that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson may not be protected by copyright even though ten original stories by Conan Doyle developing the Holmes and Watson characters remain under copyright. The lower court did rule that using character developments from these ten stories requires the Estate’s permission, but stated it was not addressing the copyright status of Holmes’s character.

The lower court decision would fracture Conan Doyle’s characters into protected and unprotected parts.  The Conan Doyle Estate believes that Holmes and Watson should be protected as the fully delineated characters their author created.  The Holmes and Watson characters were not completed by Conan Doyle until 1927, and Congress has provided a copyright term of 95 years for such characters. The Estate will ask the Seventh Circuit to protect Conan Doyle’s literary characters for the full term Congress provided.

This important decision is likely to affect copyright protection for many other longstanding series characters. The case is particularly significant because Holmes and Watson are two of the world’s most loved and recognized characters, thanks to the creative genius of Conan Doyle’s writing.  The Doyle family intends to continue to foster creative new uses of the characters by others, as recent television and motion picture series, novels, and other programs demonstrate.

Richard Doyle, a director of Conan Doyle Estate Ltd, commented, “Sherlock has been depicted in various and wonderful ways with the Estate’s consent and support. We want to make sure that future generations can admire and enjoy Sherlock and Watson as much as past generations have.”

Benjamin Allison, an attorney with Sutin, Thayer & Browne, serves as lead counsel for the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd.

Sutin, Thayer & Browne is one of the oldest and largest law firms in New Mexico, offering exceptional legal services since 1946.  sutinfirm.com

To download the Estate’s filings, click here and here.