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Debate over Sherlock Holmes aims to solve mystery over copyright

A California writer has challenged the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes and the author of a series of books and stories featuring the detective. At issue was Doyle's consulting detective as intellectual property and whether the copyright running out of most of the stories featuring the character meant that Holmes could be considered as being in the public domain. If so, writers and other content creators would be able to make new adventures for the resident of 221B Baker Street without paying royalties; if not, Doyle's descendants would legally have to be paid for using the character through 2022.

Central to the debate was whether the characters of Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. John Watson, were already fully developed in the four novels and 46 short stories out of copyright protection by 2014, or if the final 10 stories in Conan Doyle's series were essential to the characters readers now think of as the sleuthing duo. A judge recently ruled that except for using material from those last stories, authors should be free to use Doyle's characters.

The author who brought the case felt vindicated by the ruling and now plans to finish his work on a collection of all-new Holmes stories without having to pay the $5,000 the Doyle estate demanded. He had protested that it didn't make sense for publishers to be able to reprint stories without paying fees, but writers prevented from creating new stories featuring elements of the original tales.

Fighting copyright infringement can mean the difference between keeping rights to one's own work and losing it to others. Intellectual property litigation can be pursued in court for disputes over not just creative works, but patents and trademarks as well.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "Writer, Doyle estate dispute copyright on Sherlock," 01/03/2014

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