Some may have heard about the copyright case of Leslie Klinger, an author who is working on a book entitled In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of short stories with characters from the original tales, the book is currently in edit and expected to be published in fall. This has been a sticky issue for Klinger, technically the copyright protections have expired on most of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work about Sherlock Holmes, and 10 stories remain covered until 2022. That means the original stories can be reprinted, but a new story with the same characters could be in violation of copyright…or not, so the case was taken to court.
The Federal Judge ruled that it is okay to use the same character but that it is not acceptable to use the same story lines that are guarded by copyright law. That seems reasonable, but when the descendants of the Scottish physician and author who manage Conan Doyle Estate Ltd heard about it they launched an appeal process. The argument is that Doyle worked on building the character of Sherlock Holmes in his later stories and therefore the charming detective should not divert from his original character until after the copyright expires.
As anyone can imagine this is causing quite the stir among people who create art, writing, intellectual property, etc. because the outcome of the appeal will have far reaching consequences. If Klinger’s side of the argument is supported it brings the question of copyright protection and enforcement under scrutiny. Copyright infringement is unfortunately a fact of life, and it takes a lot of resources to get a ruling, in many instances it’s easier to just let it continue rather than cracking down on the people who knowingly break the laws.
If a person or company with a wealth of resources, this might not be an issue, but for the most part copyrights are held by individuals without excess capital. So is there any value to having a copyright? Everyman’s Business site defines it as “…rights given to author of artistic and intellectual works is termed copyright.” What it means is the owner/creator is the only person with the right to copy and give out and/or sell the product whether it’s a book, movie, play or artistic creation, and if a person or agency wants to use the work they need to pay licensing fees.
Currently in the USA all copyrights are registered with the Library of Congress, an application is submitted, approved and the owner receives a certificate of registration, stating that the work belongs to the creator, unless the person is an employee and a contract says the employer owns the copyright. In Canada, general copyright begins when a work is created and covers the length of life as well as fifty years following the year of death and ownership of a copyright can be inherited. Canada also has a clause about Moral Rights meaning the authors reputation is safeguarded and not defamed even when another person legally holds the copyright.
All great guidelines, but do they or do they not really have any affect on the average Joe or Jane writer or creator? One mentor once said, “To protect your copyright, write and print your work and then put it in an envelope and mail it to yourself, don’t open it and if anyone disputes it’s your work have a legal entity document the postal stamp that states when it was mailed. Then let that person open the package, it’s less expensive than registering.” In the end, it will be interesting to learn if the appeal by Doyle’s estate win.
By Dawne Skeye