A few years back I bought a hugely entertaining collection of stories ‘Inspired by the Holmes Canon’ called A Study in Sherlock. It contained tales by Lee Child, Charles Todd and Neil Gaiman and was edited by Laurie R King and Leslie S. Klinger (the man behind the indispensable New Annotated Sherlock Holmes). What I didn’t know at the time was that the Conan Doyle Estate had threatened to block the book unless a fee was paid, which it duly was. Now, in the USA some of the stories in the final collection, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, are still in copyright, thanks to an extension to copyright law there some years back (in the UK the entire canon is in the public domain), but Leslie Klinger – who is also a lawyer – was certain this did not mean the characters were protected. The ACD Estate begged to differ.
When Laurie R King and Leslie Klinger decided to produce a sequel to A Study in Sherlock (In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, with Val McDermid, Sara Paretsky, Jeffery Deaver, Michael Connelly and others contributing), their publishers received a letter from the ACD estate, threatening to block distribution to certain outlets unless, again, a fee was paid. This time Leslie Klinger decided to draw a line in the sand – last week he filed a civil action in Illinois against the Conan Doyle Estate to establish once and for all whether the characters are protected, and payment due, or if Holmes and Watson are in the public domain. Klinger says: “This isn’t the first time the Estate has put pressure on creators. It is the first time anyone has stood up to them. In the past, many simply couldn’t afford to fight or to wait for approval, and have given in and paid off the Estate for ‘permission.’ I’m asking the Court to put a permanent stop to this kind of bullying. Holmes and Watson belong to the world, not to some distant relatives of Arthur Conan Doyle.”
If nothing else, legal clarification to those of us paying royalties to one or other of the various claimants to Holmes & Watson would be most welcome and Klinger deserves our support. You can read more on http://www.free-sherlock.com.