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Copywrite protection–how long does it last?

Sherlock Holmes' hat, pipe, and spy glassAuthor and scholar Leslie S. Klinger has sued the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle estate over a copyright matter. Klinger, who is a Doyle scholar, wants to publish A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon. The estate wants a license fee or it threatens to disrupt distribution of the book, presumably by threatening book outlets.

The suit cites as fact that

The fictional characters Sherlock Holmes (“Holmes”) and Dr. Watson first appeared in A Study in Scarlet, which was first published in the Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887.

See this PDF for other copyright specifics of the suit.

[Update] In a post on February 22, 2013, Copyright Clearance Center confirms that most of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s copyrights have expired.

“Copyright has indeed expired on most of the Sherlock Holmes stories—there are more than 50 such stories now in the public domain. But about 10 stories remain under copyright for about another decade,” Andrew Albanese, PW senior writer, explains to CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “The problem, Klinger says, is that the Conan Doyle estate is strong-arming authors and publishers into license deals unnecessarily.”

Authors often times have questions about copyrights. The authoritative source is the Library of Congress’s copyright site, especially its frequently asked questions (FAQs).

The two questions I am most often asked are the following, along with the LOCs replies:

1. How long does a copyright last?

The term of copyright for a particular work depends on several factors, including whether it has been published, and, if so, the date of first publication. As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first. For works first published prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors. To determine the length of copyright protection for a particular work, consult chapter 3 of the Copyright Act (title 17 of the United States Code).

2. Do I have to renew my copyright?

No. Works created on or after January 1, 1978, are not subject to renewal registration. As to works published or registered prior to January 1, 1978, renewal registration is optional after 28 years but does provide certain legal advantages.

 


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