July 2014: Petition for emergency stay denied

On July 17, 2014, Justice Kagan denied the petition for an emergency stay filed by the Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. As a result, the order of the 7th Circuit in the case is final. The Estate still has the right to file a petition for certiorari, requesting the Supreme Court of the United States to hear their appeal, and the Estate has indicated to the press that it intends to do so.

The Estate’s petition can be downloaded here, and Law360 covered the court’s decision in an article below.

By Allissa Wickham

Law360, New York (July 17, 2014, 5:14 PM ET) — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan on Thursday denied a bid by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle to stay a Seventh Circuit decision cutting back its copyright on the iconic Sherlock Holmes character, leaving that decision in force as the estate pursues a high court appeal.

The Doyle estate had sought a delay of the Seventh Circuit’s June 16 decision, which held that the Holmes character was mostly in the public domain, as it filed a petition for a writ of certiorari.

Justice Kagan, in charge of temporary order requests from the Seventh Circuit, did not elaborate on her decision to deny the stay request. The estate had first sought a stay with the Seventh Circuit, but the appeals court denied that motion on July 10.

The suit was instigated by author Leslie Klinger, who co-edited two anthologies of new Holmes tales written by modern authors and sought a judgment that he is able to use material from 50 of Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories.

Throughout the suit, the estate had argued that although most of the Holmes stories are in the public domain, the famed detective himself was still under copyright because certain character traits were developed in later, still protected books. That meant new stories featuring Holmes couldn’t be created until the very last work in the series fell into the public domain in 2022, according to the estate.

But like a trial judge who booted the case in December, the Seventh Circuit said last month that it lacked “any basis in statute or case law for extending a copyright beyond its expiration” and the appeal “border[ed] on the quixotic.”

U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo granted Klinger’s bid for summary judgment in December, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed his ruling, following Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner’s characterization of the estate’s argument as a “very aggressive attempt to enlarge copyright law” during oral arguments.

An attorney for Doyle’s estate told Law360 on Thursday that it planned on submitting a certiorari petition with the Supreme Court in a few months.

“We appreciate the court’s consideration of our request as well as the rarity with which the court grants a stay pending appeal,” Benjamin W. Allison of Sutin Thayer & Browne said. “We continue to believe that the Seventh Circuit erred when it split from all other courts in the country and declined to require Mr. Klinger to come forward with his finished book for actual comparison to the protected aspects of Sherlock Holmes’s character.”

Scott Gilbert of Polsinelli PC, who represents Klinger, told Law360 that he believed the denial was appropriate “given the fact that the circuit opinion is entirely consistent with established precedent.”

Separately on Tuesday, Doyle’s estate filed an opposition to Klinger’s recent bid to force the estate tocover his attorneys’ fees, arguing that request should be denied because its appeal was reasonable and that outstanding issues still remained in the case.

Klinger has argued that the Doyle estate should have to pay him $30,679 to cover the legal expenses he incurred defending the appeal, arguing the estate had attempted to enforce a claim that had “no legitimate legal basis.”

But the Doyle estate fiercely disputed this assertion Tuesday, claiming its copyright arguments were supported by legal authority, as well as five fact affidavits, including several from “recognized Sherlockian experts.”

Further, the estate argued, Klinger cannot claim to be the prevailing party in the dispute because the courts haven’t considered whether his new book containing tales about Holmes actually infringes Doyle’s work. The Seventh Circuit held in its opinion that the suit only presented questions of law regarding the public domain, and did not require knowledge of the contents of Klinger’s book.

Allison, the estate’s lawyer, said he believed the estate’s arguments were reasonable, and said the issue of attorneys’ fees should not be decided until the case is fully resolved.

“Mr. Klinger should not be awarded fees for an advisory opinion that still does not decide whether his book is infringing or not infringing,” Allison said. “The court never looked at what parts of the Sherlock Holmes character are protected, and never looked at whether Mr. Klinger’s forthcoming book violated that protection.”

Gilbert, who represents Klinger, emphasized that Klinger had only sought a declaration that some parts of the Sherlock Holmes canon are in the public domain.

“Mr. Klinger determined that he needed a decision on the merits in order to protect both his own future endeavors and the rights of creators everywhere, and this is precisely the type of scenario in which an award of fees is necessary and appropriate,” Gilbert said.

The Doyle estate is represented by Benjamin Allison of Sutin Thayer & Browne PC, William F. Zieske of Zieske Law/Fine Arts Legal and John J. Bursch of Warner Norcross & Judd LLP.

Klinger is represented by Jonathan Kirsch of the Law Offices of Jonathan Kirsch and Scott Gilbert of Polsinelli PC.

The case is Klinger v. Conan Doyle Estate Ltd., case number 14-1128, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

–Additional reporting by Bill Donahue and Michael Lipkin. Editing by Elizabeth Bowen.

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July 2014: Petition for legal fees

Leslie Klinger has filed a petition asking the Court to require that Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd., pay the legal fees and costs incurred to date by Klinger in the case, amounting to about $70,000 to date. Click here for a PDF of the petition.

In response, the Estate filed a motion on July 3, 2014 (text is here), asking the Court to “stay” (delay) its “mandate” (the finality of its order), so that the Estate does not have to respond to the fee petition at this time (the response is otherwise due by July 14, 2014). The Estate avers that delay should be granted because it is filing a petition for certiorari, asking the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn the 7th Circuit’s decision, on the twin grounds that (a) there is a conflict among the Circuit courts on whether this case is “justiciable” (that is, whether it presents an actual “case or controversy” or is simply theoretical) and the 7th Circuit applied the law incorrectly in finding that the case was justiciable, and (b) the 7th Circuit interpreted the copyright laws incorrectly.

The Estate points out that if the effectiveness of the 7th Circuit’s order is not delayed, it stands to lose significant licensing fees because Sherlock Holmes is so popular at present.