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from the i’m-gonna-cry dept

Let us do a little decuctive reasoning, shall we? Copyright law has a term length. While that term length has been extended to the point of near-bastardization, that copyright exists on a term at all leads any investigator to conclude that the makers of that law intended for copyright protections on a given work to come to an end. If distinct characters and settings are offered copyright protections, as they are, then it reasons that those, too, were intended to have those protections end after a prescribed period of time. And if Sherlock Holmes is a literary character, an assertion that cannot be doubted, then it stands to reason that the law as written intended for the copyright protections covering his character were also to end after a period of time.

Therefore, all you Watson-esque readers witnessing my astounding logic, when the Estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle suggested back in 2013 in a lawsuit that the clock didn’t start running as to when a character would enter the public domain until that character had ceased to be developed, the Estate’s assertion clearly and undoubtedly runs afoul of the intention of those that crafted copyright law, since an author could simply forever-develop a character, and have him or her never enter the public domain! It’s elementary!

But not to the Conan Doyle Estate, apparently, which has sued Netflix over its forthcoming movie about Sherlock’s sister, entitled Enola Holmes. In the suit itself, the estate points out in the previous court ruling that, while most of the Sherlock stories and characters are in the public domain, the remaining ten are not. Which is true! But the estate also argues that the Sherlock character is different in those last ten stories because he… wait for it… is more emotional. And, therefore, since the Sherlock character in Enola Holmes is also emotional… copyright infringement!

“After the stories that are now in the public domain, and before the Copyrighted Stories, the Great War happened,” states the complaint. “In World War I Conan Doyle lost his eldest son, Arthur Alleyne Kingsley. Four months later he lost his brother, Brigadier-general Innes Doyle. When Conan Doyle came back to Holmes in the Copyrighted Stories between 1923 and 1927, it was no longer enough that the Holmes character was the most brilliant rational and analytical mind. Holmes needed to be human. The character needed to develop human connection and empathy.”

And so Sherlock “became warmer,” continues the complaint, setting up the question of whether the development of feelings is something that can be protected by copyright and whether the alleged depiction of Sherlock in Enola Holmes is somehow derivative.

Imagine for a moment if this argument were allowed to win the day in court. Suddenly any author who managed to develop the characters in any series of novels would get never ending copyright on those characters. Luke Skywalker is suddenly a dick in Episode 8? New copyright term on his character. Harry Potter goes through puberty and gets romantic with his best friends little sister? Well, first, come on man, but also… new copyright term on his character!

That isn’t how any of this is supposed to work, of course. Again, it’s quite obvious that the framers limited copyright to a term for a reason, and that reason was that works and characters that are protected by copyright are supposed to eventually end up in the public domain. Playing these games as to when a character that is otherwise in that public domain got some characteristic to end run around the term and still get copyright protection doesn’t change that.

If the court has any sense, this suit should find the garbage pail with the quickness.

Filed Under: arthur conan doyle, conan doyle estate, copyright, emotional growth, enola holmes, public domain, sherlock holmes
Companies: netflix

Categories: Technology