"the relentless threat" [VALL]
Well, they're at it again.
The Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. - that business entity that takes responsibility for the financial interests (certainly not the reputational interests) of Conan Doyle's descendants - is suing to have the film Mr. Holmes halted. In a lawsuit filed the day before what would have been Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 156th birthday (classy!), the CDEL named the film studio Miramax, its distributors Roadside Attractions and director Bill Condon - as well as publisher Penguin Random House and screenwriter Mitch Cullin, author of A Slight Trick of the Mind, upon which the film is based - as defendants in the suit.
Previously, the CDEL was under fire by Leslie Klinger, BSI ("The Abbey Grange"), who was defending his right to publish In the Company of Sherlock Holmes without submitting to its extortionate requests. He filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Illinois. Ultimately, the U.S. courts determined that the first 50 of the Sherlock Holmes stories are in the public domain, with only the last 10 falling under copyright protection. [Details directly below]
Timeline of Events
- February 14, 2013: Initial lawsuit filed by Leslie S. Klinger against the Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd.'s heavy-handed attempt to block In the Company of Sherlock Holmes on Amazon and other bookstores - "don't imagine that you can bully me" [CHAS]
- April 17, 2013: Our coverage on Episode 51 of IHOSE
- December 27, 2013: Leslie Klinger granted an initial victory in the case - "Ha! Nothing could be better." [STOC]
- December 30, 2013: A special #FreeSherlock episode of IHOSE, featuring intellectual property legal scholar and expert Betsy Rosenblatt, BSI ("Lucy Ferrier")
- January 4, 2014: The Conan Doyle Estate issues a press release indicating that it would appeal the decision but that it is still the winner because it holds trademarks on the characters - "spinning fine theories" [NOBL]
- May 22, 2014: An eyewitness recounted what happened during the appeal hearing - "A higher judge had taken the matter in hand" [STUD]
- June 16, 2014: The appeal was denied by Judge Richard A. Posner, who rebuked the "quixotic" attempt by the Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. to seek "perpetual, or nearly perpetual copyright protection" of the Sherlock Holmes character. "during these fruitless quests" [HOUN]
- July 18, 2014: After the CDEL filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) on July 11, the petition was turned down - "the last and highest court of appeal" [STUD]
- July 20, 2014: A discussion of all things #FreeSherlock on Episode 66 of IHOSE.
- August 5, 2014: The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the CDEL to cease extortion and pay Klinger's legal fees - "your fees will be assured and you will be given a perfectly free hand" [ILLU]
- November 3, 2014: The SCOTUS refused to hear arguments in the case - "the final discussion of those matters which lie between us" [FINA]
- May 23, 2015: Conan Doyle Estate sues Miramax over the release of the film Mr. Holmes
- August 29, 2015: Conan Doyle Sues Own Estate from Beyond the Grave (satire) - "opening a grave without the consent of next-of-kin" [HOUN]
- September 5, 2015: Settlement reached between CDEL and Miramax
- November 23, 2015: Bombshell interview with author Mitch Cullin over the lawsuit
- June 26, 2020: Conan Doyle Estate is suing Netflix over Enola Holmes - "repeated the same story with an absolute disregard" [VALL]
This time, the lawsuit was filed in New Mexico (read it here), and it takes great pains to indicate that Cullin grew up in that state and visited John Bennett Shaw, BSI ("The Hans Sloane of My Age"), with access to his library. We also note that the U.S. representatives of the Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd., Hazelbaker and Lellenberg, Inc., reside in New Mexico.
Mr Holmes on Scribd
We're not legal scholars, but there are elements of the legal filing that make more use of specific details about some of the written material and the subject matter than the previous lawsuits did. The CDEL claims that passages from "The Blanched Soldier" and "The Lion's Mane" were copied or assimilated in the new material. Whether or not those facts are relevant and compelling is up for the judicial system to decide.
"The greedy rogue. They are useful, these traitors,
but I grudge them their blood-money."
- 'His Last Bow'
But once again, we must question the motivations - and the common sense - of the Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. First, we must ask: if the matter was such an egregious copyright infringement when A Slight Trick of the Mind was first published some 10 years ago, why wasn't the CDEL rabidly pursuing the author and his publisher then? You and we both know the answer: because it wasn't a global phenomenon then, as it is now, with Sir Ian McKellen in the starring role of Mr. Holmes.
While we're at it, Sherlockian Brenda Rossini raised this issue:
The complaint now alleges that Cullin “copied entire passages from Conan Doyle’s copyrighted story ‘The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier.’ Yet, the estate ignored P.D. James’ unattributed gleaning from The Boscombe Valley Mystery in her book Death Comes to Pemberley.Interestingly, the CDEL indicates that it has managed rights with productions such as Sherlock, Young Sherlock Holmes and Elementary - none of which have anything to do with Holmes's retirement.
In terms of common sense, rather than making a major kerfuffle - on the birthday of their progenitor's birth, no less - the CDEL is now calling for a jury trial and the halting of any production that includes the so-called infringing material. Wouldn't it make more sense to allow the film to become the blockbuster that it is destined to be and then ask for a percentage of the profits?
Not in the case of the Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. Remember, their modus operandi is to allow plans of publishers and producers to get to the point of no return and then send a threatening letter or file a claim, so that the recipients pay them hush money to make the issue go away. It's been their unabashed business model for the last few years, and the weak have succumbed to its invidious intentions.
As to us, we feel that the business entity that represents what is left of Conan Doyle's estate is doing irreparable damage to his reputation. Although we all know that Doyle himself wasn't quite so concerned as he famously told playwright and actor William Gillette that he could "marry him, murder him or do whatever you like with" Sherlock Holmes. But this kind of legal wrangling and greed represents a last gasp for relevance and income for individuals who aren't even direct descendants. Surely they have other financial interests to keep them flush.
It's just sad to see that because of the overgenerous laws of the United States, the legal profession sees more of a payday than the Conan Doyle family.
What do you think of the latest kerfuffle? Perhaps we should change the hashtag to #FreeMrHolmes...
Image credit: Paxton Whitehead as Dr. Philip Barbay in Back to School (YouTube)