Leslie Klinger is the author or editor of two dozen books and numerous articles on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Recently he edited a collection, called A Study in Sherlock, containing original stories based on the Holmes’ character and other elements of Conan Doyle’s originals. Although the entire Sherlock Holmes canon is in the public domain in most of the world, in the United States the last 10 stories published remain under copyright. The publisher of A Study in Sherlock, Random House, acceded to demands of the Conan Doyle Estate that it take a license and pay a royalty. The story continues . . .
Klinger has completed a sequel, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, which is to be published by Pegasus. Pegasus, however, has balked at the Conan Doyle Estate’s demand and refused to take a license. The Estate has warned it that “If you proceed instead to bring out Study in Sherlock II unlicensed, do not expect to see it offered for sale by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and similar retailers. We work with those companies routinely to weed out unlicensed uses of Sherlock Holmes from their offerings, and will not hesitate to do so with your book as well.”
It is revealing that the threat in this case took the form of commercial pressure rather than litigation. Klinger has now sought to remove this proverbial “sword of damocles” by bringing suit against the Estate seeking a declaratory judgment that it has no rights to and cannot exclude others from using certain “Sherlock Holmes Story Elements” that first appeared in Conan Doyle’s earlier stories, which are not subject to copyright anywhere. Klinger’s list of unprotected story elements, Exhibit A, to his Complaint, is well worth a look. It is a veritable “color by numbers” for creating your own Holmes story, including such characters as Professor Moriarity, Sherlock’s smarter brother Mycroft, his landlord Mrs. Hudson and the Baker Street Irregulars, right down to Dr. Watson’s “thick neck and small moustache,” along with such Holmesian traits as his skills in chemistry, disguise, and maritial arts, his methods of reasoning, and his drug addiction.