U.S. Appeals Court Slams ‘Extortion’ by Conan Doyle Estate
The estate of Arthur Conan Doyle has been ordered to pay more than $30,000 in legal fees to Leslie Klinger, an author and Sherlock Holmes expert who successfully challenged the estate’s copyright. Calling the estate’s grip on the Sherlock Holmes story “a form of extortion,” a U.S. appeals court said Klinger “performed a public service” and deserved to be repaid. In December, a court ruled that the character of Sherlock Holmes, as well as Holmes stories written before 1923, are in the public domain. That ruling was upheld in June.
Finally: a judge in a copyright case with more sense than the one who ruled in the infamous Disney vs. the Air Pirates case:
Walt Disney Productions v. Air Pirates
In 1971, a group of underground cartoonists calling themselves the Air Pirates, after a group of villains from early Mickey Mouse films, produced a comic called Air Pirates Funnies. In the first issue, cartoonist Dan O’Neill depicted Mickey and Minnie Mouse engaging in explicit sexual behavior and consuming drugs. As O’Neill explained, “The air pirates were…some sort of bizarre concept to steal the air, pirate the air, steal the media…Since we were cartoonists, the logical thing was Disney.” Rather than change the appearance or name of the character, which O’Neill felt would dilute the parody, the mouse depicted in Air Pirates Funnies looks like and is named “Mickey Mouse”. Disney sued for copyright infringement, and after a series of appeals, O’Neill eventually lost and was ordered to pay Disney $1.9 million. The outcome of the case remains controversial among free-speech advocates. New York Law School professor Edward Samuels said, “[The Air Pirates] set parody back twenty years.”