|Doyle, you say? Don't recall the name.|
The litigation, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (which declined to hear an appeal), established that the character of Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain in the United States. That means that anyone can write about Holmes without paying a royalty to the Estate, a company owned in part by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's great-nieces and great-nephews.
Contention between the Sherlockian community and what's left of the Doyle family is nothing new, as anybody who knows the history is aware. I was reminded of this recently when I read the April 1960 number of The Baker Street Journal. In "The Editor's Gas-Lamp" for that issue, the legendary Edgar W. Smith took on the Doyles under the title "DEFIANCE TO THE GODS."
His theme was that the Journal might well have contained the tagline "Published without the permission of the Estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
For why, it may be asked, is permission needed? Mr. Sherlock Holmes is a public figure, and no public figure could conceivably tolerate the indignity of subjecting himself to copyright.Magnificent writing, isn't that? Smith goes on:
Nor is Baker Street itself, for which the JOURNAL is named, the object similarly of any restraint: it was, at last accounts, a part of the great metropolis of London, and not the private property of the Doyle Estate or any other. So it seems a reasonably safe procedure, at least at this distance of 3,000 miles from the scene, to defy the gods with snook-cocking abandon and to go ahead doing about Baker Street and Sherlock Holmes whatever we jolly well please.The Estate, Smith went on to say, also took a dim view of The Game, in which Dr. John H. Watson is presumed to be the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Arthur Conan Doyle's children are all gone now, and none of them had children, but the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. remains and continues to be often at odds with the Sherlockian community.
The Heirs of the Estate have long glared balefully at the JOURNAL. When it was launched, 1946, it was attacked as an "invasion of Our proprietary rights," and poor old Ben Abramson, who did such a noble job with it, was threatened by these barratrous gentlemen with a lawsuit to estop its publication or, perhaps to divert the "fortune" Ben was making out of it (save the mark!) into the tax-guarded coffers where all such monies putatively belonged. Of course no lawsuit resulted, and when Ben finally gave up the financial ghost the Irregulars took over, in 1951, in pursuit of a course that has likewise been free from actionable consequences.