|Illustration by Howard K. Elcock
The complaint, filed in New Mexico, says: 'Reviews of early screenings, together with trailers released in the United States, reveal that the motion picture uses the same elements from Conan Doyle's copyrighted stories.' The film is based on the book "A Slight Trick of the Mind" and the Author of the book Mitch Cullin, and his publisher Random House, are also named as defendants.
A Slight Trick of the Mind is set in 1947 and the long-retired Sherlock Holmes, now 93, lives in a remote Sussex farmhouse with his housekeeper and her young son: "He tends to his bees, writes in his journal, and grapples with the diminishing powers of his mind. But in the twilight of his life, as people continue to look to him for answers, Holmes revisits a case that may provide him with answers of his own to questions he didn’t even know he was asking–about life, about love, and about the limits of the mind’s ability to know."
|Sir Ian as Sherlock Holmes
Holmes and Watson appeared for the first time in print in 1887 and all of the works are now in the public domain, except for the last 10 in the U.S. These were published from 1923 to 1927. In June 2014 the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit issued its decision in Leslie Klinger v Conan Doyle Estate, in which upheld the decision of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois - Eastern Division that author Leslie Klinger was free to use material in the 50 Sherlock Holmes stories and novels that were no longer protected by copyright. Writing on behalf of the Court, Circuit Judge Richard Posner recalled the decision in Silverman v CBS, in which the 2nd Circuit held that when a story falls into the public domain, its story elements - including its characters - slso do. Works derived from earlier works whose copyright has expired may nonetheless be protected, but copyright will only extend to the "incremental additions of originality contributed by the authors of the derivative works."
Last year, the U.S Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in the matter by the Estate, meaning that that only the final 10 volumes have copyright protection until December 31, 2022.
A useful comment on the new claim can be found here http://www.forbes.com/sites/davegonzales/2015/05/31/the-strange-case-of-mr-holmes-vs-us-copyright-law/ which notes "In the trailer for Mr. Holmes, it is very clear that Holmes has taken up in Sussex and at one point starts writing his own stories to get the history straight. Both of these characteristics only exist in the latter stories, most notably 1926’s “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane,” which is written from Holmes’ perspective and takes place during his retirement in Sussex. Complicating the issue, two public domain stories reference Sherlock’s Sussex retirement and beekeeping practices, “His Last Bow” and “The Adventure of the Second Stain.”