According to this report by Eriq Gardner in the Hollywood Reporter, the Conan Doyle Estate has filed a lawsuit in New Mexico’s federal district court against Miramax, author Mitch Cullin, and others for alleged copyright violations in the upcoming film Mr. Holmes, which stars Gandalf … I mean Sir Ian McKellen … as Sherlock Holmes. (The story also helpfully includes a copy of the complaint).
The Conan Doyle Estate’s quest to protect its interest in the Sherlock Holmes stories led to headlines last year, when the Seventh Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Richard Posner, rejected the Estate’s argument that all of the stories are protected by copyright law (only the last 10 are).
In a later ruling awarding attorney’s fees against the Estate, Judge Posner also criticized the Estate’s business strategy, which he said was to “charge a modest license fee for which there is no legal basis, in the hope that the ‘rational’ writer or publisher asked for the fee will pay it rather than incur a greater cost, in legal expenses, in challenging the legality of the demand.” The Seventh Circuit called this “a disreputable business practice–a form of extortion.”
I don’t know what the legal merits of the Estate’s current copyright claims are, but my personal, non-legal sympathies are with the defendants. It seems wrong for the Conan Doyle heirs to demand a share of the creative works of others, to which they appear to have contributed absolutely nothing, merely because they have the good fortune of being related to a genius like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Now that the game is afoot, I wish Miramax, Mr. Cullin, and others the best of luck in solving this case.