Dinn, Hochman & Potter, LLC

Sherlock Holmes may be moving to the open market

Ohio fans of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries may be aware of a copyright dispute involving the estate of the author of the series. Descendants of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle plan to appeal a ruling by a federal judge in Chicago that allows authors and publishers to use the character in their own works. The copyrights have expired for most of the novels and stories featuring Holmes and Dr. Watson. Ten stories remain copyrighted until as late as 2022.

The intellectual property dispute is centers on the depth of the characters in the stories. An author initiated the business litigation after Doyle's estate demanded $5,000 for using Holmes and Watson as characters in a book the author plans to publish later this year. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate claims that Doyle developed these characters throughout the novels and stories. The estate alleges that Doyle continued to develop the characters in the ten stories still covered by copyright.

The author who plans to use Holmes and Watson in his book has called the estate's legal argument 'bogus." He argues that the public perception of Holmes and Watson stems from the first story about them. The federal judge in Chicago who ruled against the estate described the argument as 'novel." A decision on the appeal could influence licensing arrangements not only in regard to the Sherlock Holmes canon, but also for other works as their copyrights expire.

An intellectual property dispute is one type of business dispute in which new or unusual legal arguments are raised. A business person who believes that their business has been harmed by unfair trade practices may wish to consult an attorney to explore options and legal arguments that will help them protect their business.

Source: CBS News, "The copyright case: Sherlock Holmes at the center of legal debate", Leon Neal, January 03, 2014

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