ArtsWatch: The Case Of Sherlock Holmes — Elementary?

Famed fictional detective at heart of copyright controversy
January 06, 2014 -- 7:13 am PST
By Philip Merrill /

In recent news ...

Sherlock Holmes Goes Public? Well, Part Of Him
On Dec. 23 an Illinois U.S. District Court granted a motion for declaratory judgment ruling that the public is free to copy pre-1923 story elements from Arthur Conan Doyle's classic Sherlock Holmes but not any of the elements introduced in 10 subsequent short stories that are still protected by copyright in the United States. The plaintiff co-edited anthologies of derivative fan fiction and sought confirmation that the most recent volume could be published without the threat of an infringement lawsuit or takedown notices being sent to online bookstores. The Conan Doyle Estate unsuccessfully asserted rights to Holmes and Dr. Watson as complete characters "continually developed" across the series of works, taken as a whole, and argued this ruling will "dismantle" them. As a result, Holmes' retirement is still protected by copyright and off-limits to the public, as is Watson's athletic background and second marriage. This dividing line applies in the U.S. but not in other countries with shorter copyright terms, most notably Britain.

BMI-Pandora Rate Court Ruling Leaves Licensing In Flux
The Southern District of New York's U.S. District Court, which supervises ASCAP and BMI, handed down a Dec. 18 ruling in Pandora's suit against BMI that observers initially believed conflicted with the court's September decision in Pandora's suit against ASCAP. ASCAP Chief Executive Officer John LoFrumento said, "The court's recent decision in the BMI-Pandora case further demonstrates the need to review the decades-old consent decrees, which govern PRO licensing, to ensure they reflect the realities of today's music landscape." Covering multiple efforts by the judge to further explain the BMI result, noted, "The clarification caused further confusion with both sides in an already complicated case." Jan. 1 was an important date because it gave music publishers a chance to choose not to renew expiring BMI licenses and take on the licensing burden themselves, but further news is still awaited as well as pending requests to the court for addition clarification.

Warner Music Proposes Class Action Settlement On Digital Revenue
In late December Warner Music Group filed a proposed settlement agreement with San Francisco's U.S. District Court to resolve a class action lawsuit filed by artists regarding how compensation should be calculated for digital downloads and ringtones. Comparable to a settlement made by Sony in March 2012, artists with recording contracts predating 2002 would share prorated portions of a multimillion-dollar pool based on pre-2013 sales. Going forward, participating artists will receive a meaningful increase in royalty percentages, however the percentage will not be close to the 50 percent "licensing" rate plaintiffs have pursued. The deal is pending court approval, artists who decline to participate can still sue separately, and payments to unrecouped artists will first be applied to the amount they still owe their label.

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

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