The Sherlock Holmes Rights Grab: A grotesque sense of entitlement among writers

Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget (1860-1908)

Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget (1860-1908)

The New York Times reports that a US court has ruled that Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain; an appeal is being lodged.

An explosion of faux Sherlock Holmes fiction is expected, like a boil bursting.

I’ve yet to read a “Sherlock Holmes story” by an imitator that matches the quality of those written by Arthur Conan Doyle. The greater part of the art of literature is inventing and developing characters. It follows that a writer who insists that he has a “right” to use another writer’s characters, by definition isn’t much chop.

One of the purposes of the law of copyright protection having a natural termination a number of years after the death of the creator is education. There is nothing in the expressed reasons or implied intentions of the creators of copyright about satisfying the greed of writers too slack or untalented to invent their own characters by permitting them to cash in on the name recognition of established fictional icons created by better men.

Copyright © 2014 Andre Jute

11 Comments

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11 Responses to The Sherlock Holmes Rights Grab: A grotesque sense of entitlement among writers

  1. Meh. Will anyone be fooled?

    On the other hand, I confess I’d like to see someone writing a Sherlock Holmes story and try to fob it off as a lost Conan Doyle original.
    Think Johannes Vermeer – Han Van Meegeren.
    A competent writer should be able to fool at least some of the people for some of the time.

    • “Will anyone be fooled?”

      The question isn’t getting away with theft. The question is the morality of committing the theft.

      “On the other hand, I confess I’d like to see someone writing a Sherlock Holmes story and try to fob it off as a lost Conan Doyle original.”

      Any pasticheur with the talent to attempt such a deception with a reasonable expectation of success will also have the ability and the pride to invent his own characters.

      “A competent writer should be able to fool at least some of the people for some of the time.”

      Are you volunteering?

      • The question isn’t getting away with theft. The question is the morality of committing the theft.

        Welcome to reality. It’s cold.

        “A competent writer should be able to fool at least some of the people for some of the time.”
        Are you volunteering?

        :) No.
        Actually I hate fanfiction with a passion. I’m always slightly baffled why people want to mess with a world and characters that are not of their own making. I think I find it even more loathsome when they later go and file off the numbers.
        My own characters are giving me enough to write about. I really don’t need the hassle of “borrowing” someone else’s.
        Pastiches, and certainly homages, are something else altogether. Not too fond of them either, though.
        An honest, true falsification, let’s say, writing a so-called lost play of Shakespeare, would be an interesting exercise, methinks, for any writer.

        • “Welcome to reality. It’s cold.”

          Rage, rage against the dying of the light. — Dylan Thomas

          (The attribution of so well-known a line isn’t to insult you in particular, Andrew. But if I leave it off, some fool is certain to crow that I “stole” from dear Dylan.)

  2. I like your analysis. And your phrase, “grotesque sense of entitlement”, is apt.

    For me, in my personal opinion, there is something very like grave robbing going on when carrion writers pounce on what they morally have no right to.

    I do agree that much good can come from allowing greater access to works after a set time but I just cannot stomach the idea of copyright expiration becoming a license that legally, but not morally, allows other writers to plagiarize.

    Rick
    Calgary

    • Yo, Rick, well met. Permit me to say that I am very impressed by your netsite and in particular its utility to naive journalists dropped into life-threatening situations in the hellholes of our world. I have considerable experience in Africa, and am the editor of Andrew McCoy, the most realistic of the novelists with African settings, and could have used your advice when I was a shavetail, though of course I worked out most of it, and pretty damn quickly, or I wouldn’t be here now.

      You’re so right. Slack or untalented writers appropriating the characters created by their betters is a question of morality: theft always is, and, as you say, stealing from the dead is particularly abhorrent.

  3. I feel much the same about “Fan Fiction.” Regardless of the rationale used by many “Fan Fiction” proponents it’s not so much an homage to the character as it is just outright theft of intellectual property by people too lazy to come up with their own ideas. And, yeah, Shia LaBeouf readily comes to mind on that count no matter how much he tries to spin it.

    • Precisely: I’m on record describing “fan fiction” as theft.

      I don’t put much store in the doings of actors. I left the theatre because I could no longer stomach the actors. LaBeouf should leave spinning to specialists; his own stumbling efforts make him appear to have cracked under some stress.

      • Let me make your blood boil.

        On LiveJournal I once read the usual full disclosure introducing a rare piece of ultra-inept fanfiction.
        The “author” stated that characters, X, Y & Z belonged to Company C. “However “Boring and Uninteresting Character A” and “Ridiculously Derivative Character B” are my own. If you steal them, me (sic) and my layers will come down on you like a ton of bricks.
        The mind boggles.

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