The Daily Parker

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Almost 2014, so check your copyrights

Well, I mean, it's already 2014 in time zones east of UTC+8 (Singapore, Tokyo, Australia), but here in Chicago it's 10:30 in the morning. Which means, here in Chicago, many creative works created before 1 January 1924 are still protected by copyright. Many, like the last 10 stories about Sherlock Holmes:

A US district court in Illinois found itself wading into the details of the fictional detective's imaginary life this week in a copyright ruling on a forthcoming collection of original short stories featuring Holmes characters.

Ten Holmes short stories, however, were published after 1923, the public domain threshold pinpointed by Melville Nimmer in his authoritative Nimmer on Copyright. Details from the last ten stories could still be subject to copyright claims by Conan Doyle's descendants, Judge Rubén Castillo ruled on Monday, in a decision that went unnoticed until Friday.

In protecting the last ten stories, however, Castillo reinforced access to the rest of the Holmes oeuvre. Castillo rejected an argument by the Conan Doyle estate that some aspects of pre-1923 Holmes were not plainly in the public domain because the stories and characters were "continually developed" through the final ten stories, which will not entirely enter the public domain until 2022.

Yes, 2022, thanks to the Mickey Mouse Protection Act that extended corporate ownership of copyrights to 90 or even 120 years in some circumstances. (The last Holmes story is from 1932.)

This is an interesting ruling to me. The court has drawn a clearer distinction between ideas and expression, which I think is the intent of copyright law in the first place.

It's not an earth-shaking ruling, though, and I don't think it changes much. Still, I'll be watching for an appellate ruling on this.

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