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.
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