Elementary, Said He. Don’t Infringe on Me.
We read with interest your views on the announcement of Anthony Horowitz’s coming Sherlock Holmes novel commissioned by the Conan Doyle Estate. While all great characters in due course take their place in the public domain, that time has not yet come for Sherlock Holmes.
As you correctly point out, a number of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories are still protected by United States copyrights, as are the literary characters themselves. Trademark law also protects certain uses of the character names and images.
It is not the case that any writer may write a new story featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson — as the producers of every major Sherlockian motion picture and television series have explicitly or otherwise recognized.
Literary estates and the rights they manage are certainly unwelcome to those who attempt to misappropriate those rights for themselves (several continue to try with Sherlock). Nor are they welcome to those who disagree with copyright and trademark laws. One cannot help noting, however, that those who take a dim view of literary protections tend to change their views when it is their own rights being infringed by others.
Thomas J. Kavaler
Benjamin W. Allison
New York, Jan. 31, 2011The writers are United States counsel for the Conan Doyle Estate.