Arthur Conan Doyle’s Estate Files Lawsuit
The heirs of the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, filed a lawsuit to halt the production of an upcoming film depicting the latter years of the character’s life. Entitled Mr. Holmes, the estate is claiming that the movie infringes on the copyright that the estate still holds over some of the later works pertaining to Sherlock Holmes.
This case is the latest in a long-running legal battle that the estate has had over who owns the rights to the character Sherlock Holmes. The character first appeared in print in 1887 and is in four novels as well as 56 stories that were published in the United States in 1927. Last June, the Seventh Circuit ruled that all of the stories pertaining to Sherlock Holmes are in the public domain, except for the last ten works that were published between 1923 and 1927. The United States Supreme Court agreed with the estate that the final ten works have copyright protection until December 31, 2022.
Estate Contesting the Film
The estate has named the director of the film, Bill Condon, Miramax Studios, and distributor Roadside Attractions in its lawsuit, seeking an unspecified amount of damages. It is also requesting an injunction to prevent the release of the film in the United States and United Kingdom, set in July. The lawsuit also accuses author Mitch Cullin and Penguin Random House of infringing on the copyright for the book, A Slight Trick of the Mind, on which the film is based.
The heirs of the author’s estate claim that the story in the film infringes on the copyright that the estate holds over fictional stories written by Mr. Doyle. They claim that the movie infringes on the story, The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier. In addition, Mr. Watson in the film has married and moved out of Baker Street. The estate contends that the details of Mr. Holmes retirement are developed over the last ten stories, which is the crux of the film’s plot.
Citing the later stories that are still under copyright the estate claims that the plotline, overcoming a dislike of dogs, and other elements of a retired Mr. Holmes like “possessing a personal warmth and the capacity to express love for the first time” are still copyrighted elements of the character. Because the film focuses on these traits in the elder Holmes, it falls under the remaining copyright protection held by the estate.
The estate also added a claim of trademark infringement to the lawsuit, as well. The estate has attempted to trademark the character in the United States before and claims that “by virtue of its consistent licensing of its mark,” the common law practice should apply here, as well.
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