From The Verge:
The estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has sued Netflix over its upcoming film Enola Holmes, arguing that the movie’s depiction of public domain character Sherlock Holmes having emotions and respecting women violates Doyle’s copyright.
Enola Holmes is based on a series of novels by Nancy Springer starring a newly created teenage sister of the famous detective. They feature many elements from Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and most of these elements aren’t covered by copyright, thanks to a series of court rulings in the early 2010s. Details from 10 stories, however, are still owned by Doyle’s estate. The estate argues that Springer’s books — and by extension Netflix’s adaptation — draw key elements from those stories. It’s suing not only Netflix, but Springer, her publisher Penguin Random House, and the film’s production company for unspecified financial damages.
. . . .
The Doyle estate made a similar argument five years ago in a lawsuit against Miramax for its film Mr. Holmes — among other things, it claimed Mr. Holmes included plot details about Holmes’ retirement, which only happens in the final stories. But its new argument is a lot more abstract: basically, if this movie wants Sherlock Holmes to express emotions, its creators need to pay up.
The complaint alleges that in the public domain stories, Holmes is famously “aloof and unemotional.” Then, that changed because of his creator’s life experiences:
After the stories that are now in the public domain, and before the Copyrighted Stories, the Great War happened. In World War I Conan Doyle lost his eldest son, Arthur Alleyne Kingsley. Four months later he lost his brother, Brigadier-general Innes Doyle. When Conan Doyle came back to Holmes in the Copyrighted Stories between 1923 and 1927, it was no longer enough that the Holmes character was the most brilliant rational and analytical mind. Holmes needed to be human. The character needed to develop human connection and empathy.
Conan Doyle made the surprising artistic decision to have his most famous character—known around the world as a brain without a heart—develop into a character with a heart. Holmes became warmer. He became capable of friendship. He could express emotion. He began to respect women.
He also starts liking dogs, which a judge actually has described as a potentially protected trait.
The Hollywood Reporter notes that Doyle’s estate fought the partial public domain ruling by unsuccessfully arguing that Sherlock Holmes slowly became a complex figure who needed full copyright protection to remain coherent. The estate claimed that losing copyright to some of the stories gave Holmes “multiple personalities.”
So the estate now says Springer and Netflix are basing Enola Holmes on the personality that’s still protected. And the new personality’s key traits include relating to other people and reacting with “warmth and emotion” to a female character who happens to be his immediate family — in other words, some of the most basic updates any author might make to a century-old character.
Link to the rest at The Verge
PG was about to write some comments about showbiz lawsuits and California courts and lawyers.
(PG is a long-time member of The State Bar of California and one of more than 266,000 attorneys licensed to practice law in California, although PG no longer lives in that state. He will attest that there are some very good lawyers in California, there are some very inept lawyers in California and there are some very crazy lawyers in California.)
However, when PG examined the complaint in the Conan Doyle lawsuit, he was surprised to discover that it was filed in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico by a law firm that appears to be comprised of five attorneys located in Santa Fe, New Mexico, population: 85,000.
There is definitely an interesting story about how a UK corporation created by the heirs of Arthur Conan Doyle connected with a five-attorney firm in Santa Fe.
As mentioned, Plaintiff is a UK corporation.
- a Delaware corporation,
- a UK corporation,
- limited liabilities formed in
- Georgia and
- two residents of London
- a resident of Florida.
As it happens, the Santiago E. Campos Federal Courthouse is located in Santa Fe, likely a short walk from the offices of the attorneys representing the Conan Doyle Estate and not a short walk for any of the parties to the lawsuit or their preferred defense attorneys.
There are a total of five permanent Federal District Court judges and one temporary District Court judge in New Mexico. For comparison, California has 60 permanent Federal District Court Judge positions, New York has 52. (per https://www.uscourts.gov/)
PG doesn’t know how busy these New Mexico judges are, but expects none of them wished for a complex copyright lawsuit involving parties from all over the place to land on her/his docket.
Most Federal District Judges in New Mexico and elsewhere are current on the rules of criminal procedure and how to try a drug case. Copyright infringement? Not so much.
PG is pretty certain there are not enough qualified intellectual property trial attorneys with offices in Santa Fe to represent each of the defendants.
The Santa Fe airport boasts daily flights to to Denver, Dallas and Phoenix, so IP trial attorneys located in Los Angeles, New York or London won’t have an easy time getting to court.
PG hasn’t considered the question of federal jurisdiction and venue for a lawsuit involving as many parties from as many places as the Conan Doyle suit includes, but suspects that New Mexico federal courts could probably hear this case.
This case was filed at the end of June. PG hasn’t checked the court records to see if all the defendants have been served with papers and what has happened since the suit was filed.
However, PG will predict that the first response of the defendants has been/will be to strenuously attempt to have the case transferred to someplace with a lot more qualified attorneys and much better air access than Santa Fe.
He also suspects that a more than a few of the defendants had no idea where Santa Fe was when they were served with court papers.
PG is certain that this will be an entertaining (at least for him) case to follow.
[Let PG know in the comments or via the Contact Link if you are not seeing an embedded copy of the Complaint filed in this case and want to see it. When PG tested this post, he could usually see the PDF, but sometimes received an error message.]