Friday, December 27, 2013

The Curious Incident Of The Copyright

On Valentine's Day, 2014, Leslie S. Klinger filed, not a love letter, but a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, seeking declaratory judgment
establishing that the public is entitled to copy the expression embodied in [many of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's published stories chronicling the adventures of the inimitable Sherlock Holmes].
Specifically, in his motion for summary judgment, Klinger sought
a judicial determination that the [pre-1923] Sherlock Holmes [stories' expressive elements] are free for public use because the stories in which the elements were first introduced have entered the public domain.
The Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd., ("Estate") owners of the copyrights in Sherlock Holmes, opposed this position, arguing, instead, that
because Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were continually developed throughout the entire Canon [of Sherlock Holmes stories], the copyright protecting the [post-1923 stories] should extend to the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson characters and story elements pertaining to those characters.
In resolving the dispute, Court granted summary judgment to Klinger with respect to pre-1923 expressive elements, but allowed the Estate to maintain its copyright control over later-published expressive elements.  Of course, the Estate's victory comes with a time limit because copyright protection lasts for "limited Times" that will continue to expire as the years pass.

Sherlock Holmes has now lifted one foot out of copyright, and will soon be standing squarely within the public domain.  It has taken much effort by Klinger to achieve this partial victory through the courts.  As Sherlock Holmes himself said in The Missing Three-Quarter,
There is so much red tape in these matters. However, I have no doubt that with a little delicacy and finesse the end may be attained.
Even without delicacy or finesse, time will soon see Sherlock Holmes entirely within the public domain.

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