The latest plot twist in the “Case of the Convoluted Copyright,” is a bit, shall we say, elementary. A court has ruled that the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle must pay Leslie Klinger, the author and editor who challenged the Sherlock Holmes copyright.
Earlier this year, the 7th Circuit ruled that the majority of Doyle’s Holmes stories are in the public domain and that companies and individuals that wish to publish stories about Holmes are free to do so without paying a licensing fee, at least in most circumstances.
The case was brought by Klinger, who had been publishing stories about the detective and had initially paid a licensing fee to the Doyle estate. But Klinger argued that he did not need to pay the fee since the majority of Holmes stories had passed into the public domain. The Doyle estate contended that the copyright should be extended because the latter Holmes stories contributed a great deal to the character and those were still protected by copyright. The 7th Circuit court did not buy the argument and found in favor of Klinger.
Now the U.S. Court of Appeal has ruled that the Doyle estate must pay Klinger over $30,000 to reimburse “disreputable” fees that it had charged. Klinger has filed a separate motion for reimbursement of nearly $40,000 in attorney’s fees.
The court ruled that the Doyle estate had essentially be extorting money from Klinger and lauded the writer and editor for standing up to a disreputable business practice, performing a “public service.” The court sees the reimbursement not as a reward but merely a chance for Klinger to break even, and it urged the Doyle estate to change its business model in the future.