Sherlock Holmes

Keep Your Public Domain Off of My Stuff

backOffReading Leslie S. Klinger’s The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes before bed last night, as all the swingers do, I was reminded how Klinger’s successful lawsuit that brought Sherlock Holmes fully into the US public domain had prompted a friend and I to debate the proper length of time before creative works become public property. This friend thought 20 years from publication/distribution was plenty long. I, being a working (albeit not working) artist, found that unacceptable to the point of insulting. With it being hotter than livestock interior in LA this week, I then laid awake dripping, giving me time to belatedly formulate this argument as to why creators should retain control of their work during their lifetimes:

Let’s use as an example my radio show, Special Relativity (a comedy starring Alex Borstein, which well over one million people have enjoyed not listening to). I wrote and produced the first episode at my own (significant) expense and released it to the world for free on April 15, 2015. (Click here to listen to it and you will surely appreciate the argument below even more.)

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Which of You Canadians Wants to Pay Me to Write the Annotated 007?

Well, Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels are now public domain in Canada. We grungy Americans won’t get our hands on them until 2059 and even Fleming’s fellow Brits have to wait until another 20 years, but the laws of the Great White North, along with nationalizing an entire strain of bacon, mandate that books enter the public domain 50 years after the death of the author. It’s been just over that long since 007 creator collapsed and died after dinner at the Royal St George’s Golf Club.

So if you’re an American who wants to spite sentient jalapeño popper Rush Limbaugh, who dimwittedly insists that Idris Elba can’t become the next cinematic 007 — despite being the first choice of Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal and many Bond fans — because Elba is black and the literary Bond is white, now’s your chance to move to Vancouver to write and publish a 007 novel in which James is a towering Anglo-African with a six-song hip-hop EP. 1While I think Elba would make a great Bond, I wonder what Rushtopher would think of my current first choice for the part: Anglo-Indian actor Raza Jaffrey, most recently seen as Pakistani intelligence officer Aasar Khan on Homeland.

More importantly, now’s the chance for a Canadian publisher to hire me to write The Complete Annotated Ian Fleming’s 007. I meet at least the minimum requirements of having read all the books and possessing a valid library card. There’s no belletristic job I’d rather take on, and it seems only fair to throw me a bone since another Jewish TV writer, Anthony Horowitz, not only was selected to write the newest authorized Bond novel but also authored Moriarty, a Sherlock Holmes book sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate. Since Horowitz now has control of two of my favorite fictional characters, and therefore it’s only a matter of time before he becomes the next showrunner of Doctor Who while writing the Indiana Jones reboot and tongue-kissing the ghost of Anita Ekberg, I don’t feel like I’m asking too much. 2As envious as I am that one writer landed both of those gigs, it’s not unprecedented. John Gardner, who wrote the first post-Fleming 007 novels and actually authored more than the man himself, also wrote three Moriarty novels.

To prove my devotion to this project and enthusiasm for all things north of North Dakota, I’ve compiled a list of hilariously named actual Canadian newspapers:

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1. While I think Elba would make a great Bond, I wonder what Rushtopher would think of my current first choice for the part: Anglo-Indian actor Raza Jaffrey, most recently seen as Pakistani intelligence officer Aasar Khan on Homeland.
2. As envious as I am that one writer landed both of those gigs, it’s not unprecedented. John Gardner, who wrote the first post-Fleming 007 novels and actually authored more than the man himself, also wrote three Moriarty novels.

Stuff I’ve Read: Feb.-Mar. 2014

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The James Bond DossierThe James Bond Dossier
by Kingsley Amis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t have many opportunities to call things “jaunty,” so I’ll call this book a jaunty defense of Ian Fleming’s work, the kind you’d hear passionately laid out from one fanboy to another after several beers’ worth of debate in an alternate universe where all fanboys are Kingsley Amis, Stephen Fry, and Mark Gatiss as Mycroft Holmes. Like any good fanboy defense, and there aren’t any, Kingsley’s repeatedly turns into a mitigation, admitting to and excusing some of the worst qualities of Fleming’s work. This becomes a tad unbearable when Amis tries to mount a defense for, say, casual racism. But the rest of the time his lengthy essay is astute and harmless and a good time for anyone who’s read all of the original Bond books and wants some light critique of them, i.e. no one. (Barring me and some pasty men who died when Roger Moore still had human skin.)

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My Desperate Letter to Sherlock Holmes

Out of utter desperation and despair, today I sent a request for help to the only man capable of delivering it: Sherlock Holmes. As you likely know, the Great Detective responds to all correspondence sent to him (via his secretary at Baker Street in London).

Feb. 6, 2014

Dear Mr. Holmes,

This is my first time writing to a fictional character. However, this is also the first time I’ve had such a serious fictional problem.

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Sherlock Holmes Wants You to Take Him Now

Sethlock Holmes: The Golden Age of Hollywood Era
click here for more images of Sethlock Holmes

Attention America: Sherlock Holmes is now our property. On December 23, Chief Judge Rubén Castillo of the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division issued a ruling in the copyright suit I’ve been reporting on between the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and editor Leslie S. Klinger. He found Holmes to be in the public domain.

The court’s brief decision, while precedent setting, doesn’t seem to me — keeping in mind that my legal knowledge extends only to not being able to figure out how to pay my parking tickets — to make a sweeping declaration about copyright law. Judge Castillo deliberately stayed within the bounds of the case in hand and came to an unsurprising conclusion. 1One which the Conan Doyle estate doomed itself to lose through remarkable half-assery by missing the deadline to submit its response to Klinger’s suit.

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1. One which the Conan Doyle estate doomed itself to lose through remarkable half-assery by missing the deadline to submit its response to Klinger’s suit.

Sorry You Lost Your Copyright Because Your Character Sucks

sherlockDevelopingBack in August I wrote about literary editor Leslie S. Klinger’s suit against the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle, which argues that Sherlock Holmes should enter the public domain despite Doyle’s final ten Holmes stories appearing less than the required 90 years ago. Klinger seemed on the way to winning his case due to a lack of response from the estate, but it turns out that shortly thereafter the Doyle heirs filed their reply. Surprisingly they make a compelling and thoughtful argument for preserving the copyright on the character, one that’s especially fascinating for TV writers.

The estate, via their lawyers at Sutin Thayer & Brown, summarize their case nicely:

Although Holmes and Watson were introduced in Sir Arthur’s 1887 novel A Study in Scarlet, the characters were not fully created or disclosed in that novel. Sir Arthur continued to create Holmes’s and Watson’s characters throughout the Canon, adding attributes, dimensions, background, and both positive and negative change in the characters until the last story.

They argue that a character apperaing in a series of works is not fully “created” until the series is over. In fact they think that point so crucial that they suggest any decision in the case should determine copyright law for all episodic characters, saying, “No court has yet addressed this issue in the context of a literary character continuously created in a corpus of works.”

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