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Sherlock Holmes Finally In the Public Domain In the US 207

Posted by timothy
from the and-mycroft-is-even-older dept.
ferrisoxide.com writes "As reported on the Australian ABC news website, film-makers in the US are finally free to work on Sherlock Holmes stories without paying a licencing free to the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle after a ruling by Judge Ruben Castillo. A quirk of U.S. copyright law kept 10 stories out of the public domain, on the basis that these stories were continuously developed. In his ruling Judge Castillo opined that only the "story elements" in the short stories published after 1923 were protected and that everything else in the Holmes canon was "free for public use" — including the characters of Holmes and Watson. Holmes scholar Leslie Klinger, who challenged the estate, celebrated the ruling. 'Sherlock Holmes belongs to the world,' Mr Klinger said in a statement posted on his Free Sherlock website. IANAL, but the ruling of Judge Castillo that "adopting Conan Doyle's position would be to extend impermissibly the copyright of certain character elements of Holmes and Watson beyond their statutory period," is surely going to have implications across U.S. copyright law. Mark Twain must be twisting and writhing in his grave."
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Sherlock Holmes Finally In the Public Domain In the US

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 27, 2013 @11:22PM (#45802797)

    I smell a lot of vile and unsavory SyFy productions ramping up with this ruling.

    "SyFy, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained."

    • They already ruined Star Trek for me by casting Sherlock in the role of Khan, who looks nothing like the previous Punjabi-Mexican...

    • by bloodhawk (813939)
      Perhaps they should be covered by some other means of protection so that the blood sucking scum called Hollywood can't piss all over great literary works. I shiver to think of the shit they will produce as a result of this,
    • by PhrostyMcByte (589271) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Saturday December 28, 2013 @01:37AM (#45803297) Homepage
      Finally, someone finds a great case for extending copyright.
    • by davester666 (731373) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @01:57AM (#45803357) Journal

      I believe Congress now has a first order of business when they next convene, to add another 20 years to copyright, retroactively applied of course. Because Doyle would never have written a word knowing his heirs would not be able to continue mooching off his work 3 generations later.

      • by drkim (1559875)

        Doyle would never have written a word knowing his heirs would not be able to continue mooching off his work 3 generations later.

        Doyle was only making about £500 an installment.

        • If the purchasers had known the work would eventually leave copyright protection, they would have paid less. Much less.

        • by jamstar7 (694492)

          Doyle would never have written a word knowing his heirs would not be able to continue mooching off his work 3 generations later.

          Doyle was only making about £500 an installment.

          Back then, a £ was worth $2.65 American or so. And in the 1890's, 1325 bucks was REAL MONEY

        • by hairyfeet (841228)

          And? I never understood why this so called "IP" deserves to be treated differently than regular property. Does Ford get a cut of every used Ford ever sold? Does Joe the carpenter get a cut every time a house he built changes hands for decades?

          Of course not and that is because IP is bullshit and has given rise to "forever minus a single day" copyrights and to the wholesale theft of our public domain. Hell Doyle has been dead longer than most of us has been alive yet it is only coming out of copyright NOW?

          • by gnasher719 (869701) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @06:24AM (#45804147)

            And? I never understood why this so called "IP" deserves to be treated differently than regular property. Does Ford get a cut of every used Ford ever sold? Does Joe the carpenter get a cut every time a house he built changes hands for decades?

            Let me explain. If you write for example a book, there are in theory two ways to get paid for your work: A. Find someone who is willing to buy the book, copyright and everything, and pay you a fair value for the work. You are not going to see a penny after that. Or you get a little bit of money from everyone who buys it, forever. It's a different business model. Not one sale for big money, but many sales each giving you a tiny amount.

            But look at it in a different way: Either you want a book, or a video, or a music performance, or you don't. If you don't want it, you shouldn't care whether it's for sale or free. And if you want it, then surely you should agree that it is _worth_ paying for. You can't seriously argue that you want it but it's not worth money.

            • by devent (1627873) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @09:12AM (#45804735) Homepage

              Copyright law was never about to offer a business model to authors. Copyright law was always about to ensure that works are produced and published, to enrich society. If it turns out that copyright laws actually reduce the amount of works produced and published, then copyright law should be abolished. Normally, copyright law should be at balance to offer authors enough protection that they can make a dime of their works, but also short so that society (the public domain) can be enriched.

              That is why the original copyright term in the USA was just 14 years with the option to extend for another 14 years, and also only for registered works. With the Internet the copyright term should been shortened because the Internet offers a faster way for authors to make a dime of their work. You obviously bought into the Hollywood propaganda that copyright is a natural right of authors to have a business model. No it's not. It's an monopoly right that is granted to benefit at the end the public domain.

            • by langelgjm (860756) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @10:10AM (#45804973) Journal

              And if you want it, then surely you should agree that it is _worth_ paying for. You can't seriously argue that you want it but it's not worth money.

              The problem is, that logic runs into pricing issues. Take this book [amzn.com] for example. At the time I wrote this post, the new price was $218, the Kindle edition was $180, and used copies also sold for $180. I would be happy to pay for that book, but not $180, and certainly not $218. I might pay $30.

              In reality, I'll pay nothing, since it's so expensive that I'll just have to rely on the library's copy.

              Now you can argue that this is a special case since it's a limited run academic book, but the point is that when there is a gap between what someone is willing to pay, and the actual price of the item, you have a lost sale. With respect to physical goods, maybe that's a sale you don't want, since you'd have to take a loss. But with respect to copyrighted goods, in many cases any price is going to net you a profit.

              • by Immerman (2627577)

                > But with respect to copyrighted goods, in many cases any price is going to net you a profit.

                Quite right. But the goal is to *maximize* profit. And that changes things, even for digital works with no incremental cost. For example, there's a lot of games that I'd gladly pay $5 for, but they're only offered for $50, and so they lose a sale to me. They could lower the price to $5 to get my sale, but then nobody would pay $50 so they'd have to sell 10x as many copies to make the same profit, a dubious p

          • by tomhath (637240)

            Does Ford get a cut of every used Ford ever sold?

            Try building a pickup truck that looks just like an F150, put a Ford logo and nameplate that says F150 on it, and see what happens when you try to market it.

            You can buy a used book (at least a real printed one) without paying a copyright fee, but you can't make a movie based on a book that's still under copyright any more than you can make that F150 truck.

            • by ganjadude (952775)
              exactly. Alos lets not forget that at the time of ford, most parts on a car were off patened and they made it very dificult for new automakers to come in (in a way not much different than today re tesla) There are some interesting reads about how ford went about getting around it to start his company, I just pulled this one up but there are many more http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/how-henry-ford-zapped-a-licensing-monopoly#axzz2omaK6uK7 [fee.org]
            • by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Saturday December 28, 2013 @11:28AM (#45805385) Journal

              Several problems with your argument.

              Although copyright can be used against plagiarists, counterfeiters, and other sorts of fraudsters, that's not it's purpose. We have other laws to deal with those problems, we don't need copyright for that. Shouldn't keep copyright alive for such purposes either. If someone tries to pass that homemade F150 off as the real thing, if it's such a good copy that it fools prospective buyers, and someone buys it under the impression that they are buying a real Ford F150, then the seller has committed fraud. That's counterfeiting. Also trademark infringement. Very common for the copyright extremists to conflate these separate issues in their attempts to justify their positions.

              You can make a homemade F150 truck, and you don't need Ford's permission. It can be a cardboard cutout, or a toy sized miniature that you can hold in your hand, or a full sized replica with a working engine and all. People have made replicas of cars that while antique, are not old enough for copyright to have expired on them. No one is going to sue you for making a replica of a Studebaker automobile! Just don't pass it off as the real thing.

              There's also the Ship of Theseus problem. If you use some parts from a real antique car, and fabricate the ones you can't find, does the whole qualify as genuine? Can a T-bucket be a genuine Ford Model T?

              • by tomhath (637240)
                I wasn't talking about a single replica or committing fraud. I meant building an assembly line and manufacturing trucks that have "Made By bzipitidoo Motor Co." on the title, but everything else is exactly the same as a Ford. Saves you all the time and money that goes into design, engineering and marketing a product if you can just copy it.
                • I wasn't talking about a single replica or committing fraud. I meant building an assembly line and manufacturing trucks that have "Made By bzipitidoo Motor Co." on the title, but everything else is exactly the same as a Ford.

                  That's legal, in both the vehicle industry and the fashion industry, and for the same reasons. "Trade dress" protections do not apply to shapes which are largely functional, and there's case law declaring that the shape of sheet metal in a car or the cut of cloth in an item of apparel are more functional than not, so it doesn't qualify for protection.

                  This state of affairs persists because the brand has sufficient value all on its own. Knock-offs of designer clothing is legal, but always sell for far less

            • by toddestan (632714) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @02:18PM (#45806565)

              That's because "Ford" is trademarked, and "F150" is also trademarked (in the context of vehicles at least). That has nothing to do with copyright.

        • by _Shad0w_ (127912)

          £500 then or now? Because that would be about £215k now.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    But of course US Law is World Law because the US rules the world by bombing the shit out of anyone who disagrees.

    • by msauve (701917)
      Bombs are so old school. We have drones these days.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 27, 2013 @11:47PM (#45802923)

      No the US law applies because a Georgian Princess bought out the other English heirs of the Scottish author who then assigned it to Swiss to manage it.Later when the swiss started skimming off the top, she then sold the whole thing off.The person who purchased it was American but the estate was managed by another Swiss man. Due to a quirk in the US law, the british (dis)inherited tried to reclaim the property, but were conned by a texas lawyer who sent the notices to a non existent address in Switzerland instead of the correct address in US or Switzerland. So the ownership of the estate remains in the US. Hence US law applies.

      I did not make any of this up [sherlockholmesonline.org].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 27, 2013 @11:25PM (#45802811)

    "Watson, come here, I want you!".

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 27, 2013 @11:41PM (#45802891)

      I thought that the subtle homosexual undertones throughout the entire series were well known. In fact, they play prominently at the start of the The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes [imdb.com], a feature film from 1970. No, it's not a pornographic flic, but a comedic mystery directed by Billy Wilder that even features Christopher Lee.

      In my personal view, however, there's nothing homosexual about Sherlock Holmes. Just because a man dislikes women, and prefers the company of another man, treating him as a life-long companion in work and play, even when at the Turkish baths, it does not mean that he's a homosexual. He might like to smoke a pole as much as he likes to smoke a pipe, but again, that does not make him a homosexual. It's perfectly normal and straight for two completely heterosexual males to touch one another's genitals. Just because two men love each other and form a bond stronger than steel it does not mean that they are gay.

      • They attempted to resolve the orientation question for conservative US audiences by casting Lucy Liu as Holmes in Elementary.

        • by jamstar7 (694492)

          They attempted to resolve the orientation question for conservative US audiences by casting Lucy Liu as Holmes in Elementary.

          So what? Holmes still isn't banging Watson, even with the switchup.

    • by tomhath (637240)
      Wasn't that Alexander Graham Bell?
  • Finally... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by msauve (701917) on Friday December 27, 2013 @11:35PM (#45802853)
    Disney will now be able to bring the stories of the the brothers Grimm [wikipedia.org] to the big screen, like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. No longer will our culture be stolen from us by dead people and uncreative "owners of intellectual property."
    • Re:Finally... (Score:4, Informative)

      by TubeSteak (669689) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @01:43AM (#45803311) Journal

      What you can't use is any recent (re)translation or re-imagining or edition from [publisher].
      That's the reason that "American Classics" keep getting new editions cranked out, even though the story hasn't changed in a century.

      So while Disney doesn't own Snow White (or any of the other stories), they own their version.
      The Disney version strays enough from the Brothers Grimm that Disney has claimed and received copyright and trademarks.
      Of the two legal claims, Disney is vastly more likely to slaughter you with trademarks than copyrights.

      • Re:Finally... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by _KiTA_ (241027) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @03:45PM (#45807091) Homepage

        They also own their version of Nadia: Secret of the Blue Water [thesecretofbluewater.com] and Kimba, the White Lion [kimbawlion.com].

        Just a reminder that Disney doesn't just shamelessly steal from American folklore and then try to lock it up forever; they are quite happy to steal from other cultures too.

        Keep this in mind in a few years when Disney tries to find a way to loophole their way into retaining ownership of the original Steamboat Willie -- which, if I'm understanding this ruling, Disney can no longer keep perpetually copyrighted through bribing congress.

    • by PRMan (959735)
      Cool. I'll get right on my new Mickey Mouse stories...
  • both Scottish based.
    • Peter Pan is a different story...
      From the copyright page on the official website:

      Copyright in the USA is governed by the Universal Copyright Convention, by which a publication enters the public domain 25 years after the author’s death – in Barrie’s case, 1962. However, it was agreed in 1971 that the Berne Convention should take priority over the UCC in countries signatory to both conventions, and therefore Barrie’s extended copyright [was] guaranteed until 2007 in the USA as well. In the UK, the situation is a little more complex with regard to the Peter Pan Gift in that the House [of] Lords passed a special resolution in 1988 via the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act, effectively granting the Great Ormond Street Hospital a perpetual extension to its right to royalties in the UK “in respect of the public performance, commercial publication or any other use of Peter Pan.”

      Yes, in the UK they can do that. At least it's for a good cause (Pan royalties fund the hospital).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 27, 2013 @11:50PM (#45802935)

    How can Sir Arthur Conan Doyle be incentivised to write more Sherlock Holmes books, if he can't enjoy exclusive rights to his works?!

    Nooooooooooooooooo!

  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@lynx.b c . ca> on Friday December 27, 2013 @11:58PM (#45802955) Journal
    Still, 90 years is an awfully long time... these copyrights should have reasonably expired several decades ago.
  • Holmes scholar Leslie Klinger, who challenged the estate, celebrated the ruling.

    Holmes scholar Leslie Klinger, who challenged the SCUM SUCKING PARASITE LAWYERS AND WORTHLESS TWATWAFFLE DESCENDENTS OF DOYLE, celebrated the ruling.

    TFTFY

  • Decision text (Score:4, Informative)

    by Flamerule (467257) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @12:22AM (#45803031)
    There's a slightly more detailed story posted on the plaintiff's website [free-sherlock.com]. They're also hosting a copy of the full decision [wordpress.com] from Judge Castillo, of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
  • On Twain... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheloniousToady (3343045) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @12:25AM (#45803049)

    Reports of Mark Twain twisting and writhing in his grave have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, the late Mr. Twain has been quite immobile since the most recent reports of his death.

  • The Mark Twain article reproduces a 100 year old NTY microfiche where somebody corrected a spelling incorrectly.

    Don't call me a spelling Nazi because it was 25 years before that.

  • sigh (Score:4, Funny)

    by bigdavex (155746) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @12:45AM (#45803117)

    Great, now he'll never write any more.

  • by TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @12:48AM (#45803131)
    Sherlock Holmes --- an imaginary character --- has more rights than real people.

    Hitler, Albert Einstein and Elvis make frequent cameos in media and often star in YouTube videos, having no rights because they are *REAL* people.

    But Mickey Mouse and Sherlock Holmes and Barbie have more rights as imaginary characters.

    Curious legal system we have. Feel free to use Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter or Richard Nixon (hello Futurama!) in a story ... it's just bizarre!!!
    • by bloodhawk (813939)
      I am not sure what you find bizarre here. Why would you think real people should be covered by copyright protection? the characters have no rights, the owners of the art have the rights, i.e. real people.
      • by rtb61 (674572)

        So where would you fit the typical psuedo celebrity whose public image is an imaginary work created by public relations (PR=B$) specialist who crafted it to market and promote crappy products. Are they a person or an imaginary caricature of a person.

        Oddly enough to in order to gain copyright protections in court for those fake caricature of psuedo celebrities, the public relations types would have to prove what kind of narcissistic arse holes the typical pseudo celebrity really is versus the crafted publ

        • by bloodhawk (813939)
          Generally it comes under trade mark protection and protection against false endorsements.
      • by lxs (131946)

        There's a thing called portrait rights although according to Wiki it's officially called personality rights in the English speaking world (or at least where the editor lives).

    • In many cases you are not free to do this, as celebrities and their likenesses are trademarked and highly regulated. I imagine if you tried to use Ronald Reagan in any significant way in a novel or artwork you'd hear from his estate. Unless it was fair use or parody, and then you have a lot more flexibility.

      • by jamstar7 (694492)

        In many cases you are not free to do this, as celebrities and their likenesses are trademarked and highly regulated. I imagine if you tried to use Ronald Reagan in any significant way in a novel or artwork you'd hear from his estate. Unless it was fair use or parody, and then you have a lot more flexibility.

        I'm thinking that's unfair. After all, when Ronnie Raygun did his last acting job, that of El Presidente, he sure used us unfairly. We're still paying down the debt he saddled us with, and we haven't seen a cent of teh 1.5 TRILLION he looted from Social Security to pay for Star Wars.

        • Actually if Congress hadn't passed new spending increases, the budget would have been balanced. From my recollection, tax revenues did in fact increase under Reagan, as predicted. But Congress passed (and in fairness RR signed into law) spending increases almost double the increased revenues.

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      Sherlock Holmes --- an imaginary character --- has more rights than real people.

      Not really. Though imaginary characters' rights most likely last for longer.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personality_rights [wikipedia.org]

      Hitler, Albert Einstein and Elvis make frequent cameos in media and often star in YouTube videos, having no rights because they are *REAL* people.

      I know Einstein & Elvis' estates are litigious, but I couldn't say for sure about Hitler's estate.
      They almost exclusively go after people who don't get a license to use the image for *commercial* purposes.

  • I'm confused... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by king neckbeard (1801738) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @01:37AM (#45803299)
    Doyle has been dead since 1930. That means that Sherlock Holmes has been in the public domain in Scotland since 2000. If something is PD in the country of origin, it is PD to all Berne signatories. That's part of how the CTEA was sold to the US public, as our authors would be 'disadvantaged' if we kept a shorter term.
  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Saturday December 28, 2013 @01:44AM (#45803317) Homepage Journal

    There's no grave gymnastics to be had here. Clemens had planned to add to his stories over time, so that people would want to preferentially purchase his editions over the free-culture versions. He didn't want to sit on his laurels while jackbooted thugs ensured him a rent-seeking income - he was, after all, a writer.

    Today, those against the Copyright regime frequently propose similar strategies.

    • copyright has been a problem for a least 400 years since an unauthorised sequel to Cervantes.

      70 years sounds about right but I do wish Hollywood would stop remaking films from 30 years ago and create some new material.

      • by Eivind Eklund (5161) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @02:45AM (#45803513) Journal

        You got an extra zero in there, right? As in 7 years sounds about right?

        I know some authors protest that seven years is too long, and the majority of income is made in the first three years and after five it would be advantageous to have the works available in the public domain (but the publishers don't want the competition from previously released works), but I think that varies from author to author, so doing a compromise of seven seems reasonable - we can experiment with shortening it further after having seen what happen when we cut it to seven.

        • 7 years? That's way too short. Time flies quickly. You might have created a really good brand which might easily survive for more than 7 years.
          • by devent (1627873)

            Then you can register your work and extend for another 7 years. That would be my proposal and would be just like the original copyright term of the USA, which was 14 years, plus 14 years per extension.

  • I guess this means a US court will bravely stand up to bring Mickey Mouse into the public domain somewhere around 3500 AD.

    • by jamstar7 (694492)

      I guess this means a US court will bravely stand up to bring Mickey Mouse into the public domain somewhere around 3500 AD.

      Wouldn't count on it that soon. When the Sun explodes, the only thing that will survive are the roaches and Disney copyrights.

  • Hmmm. A Donald Duck pr0n version?

    Wait, a pr0n version of Sherlock and Wa..., err, John Holmes? A century worth of speculations is over?

  • Mickey also belongs to the world, yet we'll never see it hit public domain. Not until Walt's defrosted.

  • A judge in the United States of America ruled against an unreasonable extension of copyright law?

    • by plopez (54068)

      Definitely not a Republican. They believe in in rights and freedoms only if you are a corporation or law enforcement.

  • A quirk of U.S. copyright law kept 10 stories out of the public domain, on the basis that these stories where continuously developed.

    1) This conflates two things: the normal 1923 limit which kept 10 stories out of the public domain, and the "continuously developed" idea which was used to keep the characters (not the stories) out of the public domain based on the fact that the stories are not in the public domain.
    2) Neither one of those two conflated ideas is a "quirk of copyright law". The 1923 limit is

  • The convoluted story of Sherlock Holmes ownership was covered in a New Your Times piece [nytimes.com] a while back when the recent crop of movies came out

  • when other countries do the same, and rule that the works of American authors long gone is not subject to copyright law outside of the U.S. "Sherlock Holmes belongs to the USA" is probably what they mean here, and I think more of these rulings will come.
    • by dk20 (914954)
      Just look to Canada.

      We have copyright laws here, but they are not the same as in the US as ours are not as strict. On multiple occassions the US has attempted to have Canada modify the laws to "bring them in line" with US laws (longer with much harsher punishments).

      Thanks to wikileaks you can read the "top secret" cables where Canada was put on the "piracy watch list" as an attempt to force changes.
  • adopting Conan Doyle's position

    Lying flat on your back with your eyes closed six feet under ground?

    would be to extend impermissibly the copyright of certain character elements of Holmes and Watson beyond their statutory period

    That sounds more like the position of Conan-Doyle's ancestors. Conan-Doyle himself famously replied to someone who wanted to stage a play in which Holmes got married with:

    "You may marry him, murder him, or do anything you like to him."

  • I'm not sure this really matters. (Caveat: I'm not a fan and haven't read the books since I was very young.)

    The BBC Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman incarnation is closer kin to the show Monk than to the Robert Downey Jr/Jude Law incarnation. Using the name Sherlock Holmes is more of a marketing decision than a creative one. Basically, the original stories donate two things: the pairing of a genius with a more ordinary sidekick and the names.

    Meanwhile, there have been decades of stories with Holmes

  • It says so right there in the US Constitution. It is in fact one of the first things the Constitution says, so those who wrote it must have decided it was important. I think it was a reaction to Royal copyrights and patents which stifled creativity. And from the loos of it I think Jefferson and Franklin were two driving personalities behind it.

    On another note, as far as Mark Twain twirling in his grave, I think he would have been very angry if he had know how abusive copyrights have become of late. Persecut

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