Deadline, Variety, The Wrap, and The Hollywood Reporter are all reporting that the estate has filed a copyright and trademark infringement lawsuit against Miramax, Penguin Random House, and Mitch Cullin over his book, A Slight Trick of The Mind, and the movie based on it. That movie, Mr Holmes, stars Ian McKellen and comes out in July.
Update: the lawsuit was settled a couple weeks before the movie hit theaters.
The estate alleges that the book uses elements from several of Conan Doyle's Holmes stories which are still under copyright. As you may recall from my past coverage, there are ten original Holmes stories still under copyright in the US (the copyright has expired in most other countries). The estate points out in its complaint (Scribd) that several of the stories detail an older Holmes in retirement.
Having read about half of Cullins' book and skimmed the stories mentioned in the complaint, I can see that there are certain similarities between the book and Conan Doyle's stories. You could even claim that the author borrowed from the stories in writing his book.
That said, I think this lawsuit is bullshit, and that the estate continues to be copyright trolls. Here's why:
- Venue - Even though none of the parties are based there, this lawsuit was filed in New Mexico on the basis that the book's author grew up in the state and that copies of the book were probably sold there.
- Trademark - Making a trademark claim over someone infringing on your copyright is trolling, pure and simple. It is an attempt to extend control over the content into perpetuity.
- Timing - The book came out ten years ago, and yet the estate only bothered to file suit a couple of months before the movie was due to be released.
- Evidence - A close reading of the filing suggests that the
trollsestate hasn't actually seen the movie they are suing over. All of the cited similarities are drawn from the book, and not the movie.
All in all, folks, I am looking forward to watching the Conan Doyle estate get trounced once again.
Up until about two years ago, the Conan Doyle estate had been trolling book publishers, movie studios and other creators. The estate had been collecting license fees under the questionable legal concept that the characters of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson were still in copyright because some of the stories were still in copyright.
That changed in early 2013 when Leslie Klinger sued the Conan Doyle estate to have Sherlock Holmes declared as being in the public domain. Klinger's lawyers won the case in December 2013, and then defeated the estate's appeal in June 2014.
After the Supreme Court declined in November 2014 to hear the estate's case, the Conan Doyle estate was left with a limited ability to troll creators. Rather than threaten to sue over the character of Holmes, it can now only sue over the stories which are still under copyright.
And that is probably why the estate has turned to making a trademark threat. They know they have a weak case, so they try to bolster it with a bogus trademark claim.
And in case you missed it, Random House didn't pay a license when the book, A Slight Trick of The Mind, was published in 2005 (if they had then there would be no case today).
The Conan Doyle estate missed its chance years ago to sue over the book, and now they are suing over a movie which they have not seen.
That is how weak this case is.
image by dynamosquito