Some tutting here from Andrea Plunket, the US copyright holder of the Sherlock Holmes stories, about the Holmes/Watson bromance. From Cinematical, here’s what Plunket had to say in response to Robert Downey’s comments about the on-screen relationship in the new film:
“I hope this is just an example of Mr Downey’s black sense of humour. It would be drastic, but I would withdraw permission for more films to be made if they feel that is a theme they wish to bring out in the future,” says Plunket. “I am not hostile to homosexuals, but I am to anyone who is not true to the spirit of the books.”
I haven’t followed all the links and tried to figure out why this woman owns these rights, but it’s a bit mystifying that fiction written so very long ago isn’t in the public domain. Imagine the world and the stories in it if Shakespeare or Chaucer or Homer were still zealously guarded. We’d be poorer for it.
I think current copyright laws of lifetime of the author plus 70 years are unconscionable.
What do you think is a good term for copyright? Lifetime of the author? Lifetime plus 20 years? None at all?
17 thoughts on “Sherlock Holmes gay? shut down the franchise!”
She is apparently…wrong. She owns nothing.
Copyright is tricky; I don't think I know exactly. I feel like there is a problem between “is fanfic okay?” & such– I am much cooler with derivations than I am with the sort of chicanery that sometimes goes on.
I have more problems with the current brawny less brainy incarnation of Holmes than I do with the slashy nature of his relationship with Watson.
As for copyright…lifetime of the author. Once the writer expires, so do the rights.
Nicola, mordicai — it's not the copyright (which expired in 2000) they have to worry about. The characters are trademarked. see:
jennifer — There are several instances where Holmes showed his physical side. According to Watson, Holmes was an expert boxer and swordsman and a decent marksman (Watson was actually better with a pistol). He unbent an iron poker (Adventure of the Speckled Band), so he was certainly physically fit; and of course, he fought (and killed) Moriarty using martial arts. For more, see:
Copyright duration: lifetime of the author, for sure. I think we cut ourselves off from our culture when we're not allowed to build on it.
Copyright? As far as I'm concerned it's just like any other property we own. Why shouldn't it pass down to whomever we designate in our will? I have no quibble with 70 years, but I don't think it should be less. I don't really object to it being more if it's still in the family.
Doyle died in 1930. I read some from the link. They (his estate) have trademarked some things and some of the copyrights have been extended legally in the US. Don't know who owns his estate now, but that woman mentioned in the article is just the rep for it in the US according to that website. Mordicai's link says no. I found this thru Moricai's link:
“There have been ongoing legal battles between these two sets of supposed representatives. However, the end result seems to be that both have some claim.
Many people don't seem to understand that if two people jointly own a copyright EITHER can authorize publication and NEITHER can prohibit any publication authorized by the other. That's a fact of US Copyright law.
In this case the parties claim their rights under different children of Conan Doyle.
Actually the person to blame for the mess is probably Sir Arthur himself. He obviously wrote his will without adequate legal advice. (I have a copy in front of me.)
If all the children and all the children's spouses and heirs had gotten along then there would not have been a problem. But you can't count on that. He should have put the copyrights in a trust, named an institution the trustee, and named his wife and children the beneficiaries. Then there probably would not have been 75 years of arguments and litigation..”
I haven't read the books or seen the movie, so I can't comment as to the other, but despite her claim to the contrary, I suspect this woman is homophobic to the extreme. It sounds fun to me.
I also think that our current society is way too hung up with the whole gay/straight thing. It's ok to touch or flirt or whatever with people we like for chrissakes. It used to be ok for women to hold hands, etc. It doesn't mean we have to jump into bed with them and so what if we did anyway?
Dianne, thanks for that clarification.
Jennifer, I'm not sure I agree that physical property should be handed down through the ages. (I'm saying I don't, just that I'm not wholly convinced.) But I'm pretty sure IP shouldn't be handled that way. But I'm with you absolutely on this irritating hang-up people have with what other people do with their lives: so what?
Hmm. Sticky. I guess it depends on the author's wishes. If a certain author wishes his or her stuff remains under the control of the family, then cool. If not, it should expire with death. When siblings quibble over stuff like this, I tend to want to do to them what I do to my own kids: take their toy away from both of them.
I haven't seen the film, but a “liaison” between Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law would be yummy. I might just have to play hookie tomorrow and go see it.
On copyright: I absolutely don't think you can handle it the same way as physical property, since intellectual property can be copied or shared without depriving the original owner of its use. Were it up to me, I'd be inclined to put the limit at 10 years or so after the author's death.
On Holmes and Watson: you could tell the story as that of friends or lovers or something in between. Whichever, they're clearly central figures in each other's lives, existing outside heteronormativity, and I'm always in favor of that.
I'm shocked that Sherlock Holmes and other characters can be trademarked. These characters are part of the literary and cultural landscape. Also, Neil Gaiman won a Hugo in 2004 for a short story using the Sherlock Holmes characters… LOL… I wonder if he received any special permission for that. But having said that it's fair for works to be in the public domain 50 years after death of the author, although I think Agatha Christie's novels evaded this too with some corporate structure.
Nicole, I'm inclined to agree on the time span, though perhaps 5 yrs after death would be sufficient.
Ivan, it is shocking. But, re Agatha Christie, perhaps this is why her stuff is still in print: the profit motive.
Can't guys be friends and emotionally involved in each other's lives without being labelled. Bromance is just part of the current lexicon of the way they sell movies and “giggle, giggle” at the audacity of cross sexuality. It doesn't always have to be “Men in Love”. Nor women either.
But change the character so as to change the story is to change the story. No one who followed Mission Impossible during the tv years could or should buy into Mr. Phelps being the bad guy. That was just a paucity of invention on the part of the twits who wanted a sequel. As well may be the case here. 'Sides, see the movie and prove that there was even a hint at a sexual interest between the two men, I dare you.
I'm a little late chiming in on this, but for copyrights in the US, anything published prior to 1923 is in the public domain. I haven't done any digging, but I did look at one site for publishing years and it appears that the last collection of stories was published in 1927. The stories in that collection were originally published between 1920 and 1927. So those stories straddle the clear cutoff date. (Copyrights from stuff published in 1923 and after become horribly convoluted. Some are in the publich domain and some not.) Everything prior to that last collection for Sherlock Holmes should be in the public domain and they are available as ebooks from many online sources for free.
The comment about “remaining true to the spirit of the books” made me laugh out loud in its hypocracy. The movie was not in my opinion true to the spirit of Sherlock Holmes at all. It was an entertaining movie, but it was an action flick and the trademark Holmes logic and deduction were almost completely absent. I was hoping to see something a bit more cerebral, which is what I expect when Holms is mentioned. (Though I do so love action flicks.)
As to copyright and the public domain in general. Eesh, don't get me started. I think what's been done since the 70's is criminal and does not in any way reflect the intent of the US Constituion, where the public good was specifically stated as being important. But lawmakers (and the Supreme Court) have instead used the language about there being a time limit to just stretch it out to a ridiculous length. The Court has opined that as long as copyright does have a limit, it can basically be as long as they're willing to stretch it. Or at least that's what I got out of reading up on it a while back.
I think life of the author is sufficient. If the author lives a long time and wrote something early on they had plenty of time to profit from their labor and their family will inherit whatever that profit has gained the artist in terms of financial investments and real estate. I do think that some provision should be made for life +20 years or something of that sort if the work was published not long before the author's death. The publisher does have a right to a decent amount of time in which to recoup and profit from their investment in the work.
But beyond that I think the public good is important and art moving into the public domain is good for society.
On the bromance thing, I rather liked what they did in the movie. It was clear that Holmes and Watson cared deeply for each other, but that doesn't have to translate into sexual interest. I think the world can use more examples of platonic love between men.
The copyright issue (or trademark) doesn't seem to be an issue for Laurie King. But perhaps she has permission…?
As for the relationship, there's been Holmes/Watson slash fiction around for yonks. I recall seeing one in a friend's multi-fandom zine years ago (before slash moved lock, stock and barrel onto the internet). I recall only vaguely that it was well-written, mildly funny and actually involved a mystery plot.
Wendy, I'm too ravaged this morning by Belgian beer to even pretend how that kind of copyright crap works. It's a mystery perpetrated by bleeding ca-PIT-alists (you need to be familiar with Dick Francis's oeuvre to parse that one, and, no, today I don't much feel like taking pity on anyone and helping out).
But, yes, the slash has been out there forever. And some slash is pretty damn good.
Hmm, well, y'know, Holmes and Watson were very close, and they never married, did they? More than a bromance, if you ask me.
Life of the author plus (some number of years dependent on whether the author left minor dependents). I think I'd want my works to bring up my children to adulthood (age 21), if I had any.
Bottom line is, gay storyline aside, Plunkett has never been able to prove in a court of law that she owns anything. Her late husband had a Sherlock Holmes series in the 1950s. That is what she is basing her claims on.
There are some of the later stories which came during the period where the laws were changed to the current 75 year timeframe in the U.S., but I believe that the European copyright dates are considerably different.
A close personal relationship between Holmes and Watson has been speculated on almost since the books and stories were written. Some particularly wonderful pastiches were written during the 1930s and 1940s. One of which actually considered the idea that Watson wasn't actually a man (“Watson Was a Woman” by Rex Stout).
We all see what we see, right or wrong, whether the author meant it to be or not. Anyone who reads fanfiction can attest to that.
I haven't seen the newest movie as yet, but I have no problems with anything Downey has said, just based on the clips I've seen.
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