|Jeremy Brett as Holmes in 1985|
|Basil Rathbone as Holmes with |
Nigel Bruce as Dr Watson in 1939
This is a good time for Sherlock-based entertainments, with BBC's Sherlock is returning for its third series and CBS's Elementary is in the middle of its second season. A third Guy Ritchie-directed, Robert Downey Jr.- and Jude Law-starring movie is reportedly in the works - all licensed by Jon Lellenberg, who is the American agent for the Conan Doyle Estate. That said, any writer basing new derivative works on the characters will need to be very careful. The District Court stopped short of granting a permanent injunction barring the Conan Doyle Estate from asserting copyright in the elements of the Sherlock Holmes canon, even those elements that the District Court agreed are in the public domain, so writers face the possibility of a license fee demand - or threat of litigation from the Conan Doyle Estate even for pre-1923 works - albeit surely such claims for a licence may well be unfounded in law - but maybe all but the brave will be deterred from entering this Valley of Fear. Let the Great Game commence.
Update: Post decision there have already been some moves by the Estate: It seems at the heart of this is that because the plaintiff Leslie Klinger did not seek a “judicial determination of the copyright status of the Sherlock Holmes character,” the court did not address the issue - and now the Estate's lawyer Benjamin Allison has said "While plaintiff Leslie Klinger sought a ruling that some of these character traits were free for all to use ..... the Court rejected Mr. Klinger's effort in this regard and held that all such characteristics of Holmes and Watson are protected.” Klinger however, called Allison’s statement “a great attempt at spinning by the Estate,” after having lost on their theory of an “incomplete” character telling Publishers Weekly “The Court carefully said that it was not determining that the character was either in or out of copyright protection; Instead, the Court said that elements were free of protection.”