The Shameless Website of the Conan Doyle Estate Limited

The brazenness of the Conan Doyle Estate Limited continues to know no bounds. A glossy new website, www.conandoyleestate.com, falsely claims “ownership” of U.S. trademarks in the character of Sherlock Holmes (it has applied for a broad range of trademarks but does not own them yet–and will not if the public speaks up). The CDEL’s website also ironically thanks the “donors and supporters” of the Estate, including Warner Bros., PBS, and CBS-TV, who paid license fees extorted from them (not my characterization–see the 7th Circuit’s opinion in Klinger v. CDEL, at www.free-sherlock.com) by means of baseless threat of suits for copyright infringement.
Has the CDEL no shame? We love Arthur Conan Doyle and honor his memory–but this continued cynical exploitation of expired rights is shameful. By 2023, none of the Sherlock Holmes stories written by ACD will be protected by copyright anywhere in the world. Will the CDEL stop its “corrupt business practices” (in the words of Judge Posner) then? Don’t hold your breath.
The fight for “Free Sherlock” is far from over!

13 Comments

  1. David R. McCallister on December 12, 2016 at 10:38 am

    What is the most effective way for those of us in the public to speak up?

    • Leslie S. Klinger on December 12, 2016 at 10:52 am

      You can write a letter to the U.S. agent, David Reeder, or the U.K. agent. More importantly, you can write to the US Patent & Trademark Office, opposing the CDEL trademark applications on the grounds that it’s too late–the mark of Sherlock Holmes has been used in commerce for an enormous variety of products for more than 100 years without restriction.

  2. Tom Crammond on December 13, 2016 at 12:52 am

    Sherlock Holmes has been in public domain for years. Greed is not a reason to change!

  3. Michael J. on December 24, 2016 at 12:01 am

    If they are trying to represent the interests of Doyle, one would wonder if Doyle would want them to monopolize a market like this. I don’t think he would. I think an author has to realize eventually their works will expire and should stay that way.

  4. Jennifer Thurmer on February 22, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    If an institution or a member of the public wish to use (in a publication) photographs of Conan Doyle and/or his family taken in the 1920s or before can they be used without permission from his estate, or elsewhere? Apologies if this is too difficult a question. I find it extremely difficult to learn who owns what, and many websites, sadly, do not provide references to sources, or who owns the material. Many thanks.

    • Leslie S. Klinger on July 6, 2021 at 11:57 am

      It is the photographer who owns the copyright, not the subject. The subject of the photograph only has the right to protect the content if the subject did not consent and had a reasonable expectation of privacy. It is very unusual for photographs to be registered, and certainly the copyright to any photos taken before 1926 has expired in the U.S.

  5. Dr.Georg Ramsauer on May 24, 2018 at 3:15 am

    Very informative for me as a Sherlock Holmes fan

  6. Dr. Georg Ramsauer on June 8, 2018 at 2:07 am

    I am a great fan of Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes

  7. Monique on July 27, 2020 at 4:52 pm

    Hello Mr. Klinger,

    Thank you for posting this. I’m a high school student interested in writing a Sherlock Holmes pastiche but there seems to be so much implications (and I really don’t want to get sued)! I thought I would contact the estate to confirm if I can use their characters first on June 26th under the subject “US Licensing” and I tried getting them again through the general enquiries just last week. Still no reply. It’s sad and disappointing to know the business could be so corrupt. Hopefully things change (whenever that might be…).

    • Leslie S. Klinger on August 18, 2020 at 12:33 am

      Just write it! You ought to check the last six stories, to make sure that you don’t use any “character elements” unique to those stories (whatever that means), but go for it! Don’t wait for a license–you don’t need one if you’re careful!

  8. Zack S. on July 6, 2021 at 10:41 am

    What gets me is that they have the audacity to claim ownership of copyrights and trademarks that have already expired. Brigadier Gerard is undoubtedly public domain, the last story having been published in 1903. And they claim to have ownership of Holmes and all these other characters in the UK and the European Union, where again, the works of Doyle are 100% public domain.

    By 2023, it shouldn’t matter for Holmes’s copyright status. But it’s obvious that they’ll try to use trademark law to try to keep Holmes out of the public domain. Conan Properties International has used trademark law to keep Robert E. Howard’s work out of the public domain, so I am sure the Conan Doyle Estate will try it too 2023 and onwards. As someone who wants to write their own version of Holmes (either in podcast form or in print), this is discouraging to me. I might have to seek out a lawyer in advance to be prepared for any potential stunt the Conan Doyle Estate might pull.

    • Leslie S. Klinger on July 6, 2021 at 11:58 am

      I agree that we must remain diligent regarding trademarks! We just opposed a mark application for books, and it was withdrawn.

      • Zack S. on July 9, 2021 at 11:40 am

        What’s the best way for someone like me, a member of the general public, to oppose the Estate’s unlawful trademark claims. I know I can write the USPTO, but are there other ways for someone to speak up?

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