From Mark Litwak: ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Public Domain’

Full post here.

Don’t go and make him your own just yet:

‘The case raises the issue of which elements of the Sherlock Holmes stories are in the public domain, and which may remain under the protection of copyright law. Copyright can sometimes, but not always, protect characters and plot. Recognition of copyright protection for fictional characters goes back to Judge Learned Hand, who suggested that characters might be protected, independent from the plot of a story. He wrote “It follows that the less developed the characters, the less they can be copyrighted; that is the penalty an author must bear for making them too indistinct.” So, while a writer cannot secure a monopoly on hard-boiled private eyes, one could protect a finely drawn character like Sam Spade.’

I’m kind of middle-of-the-road on the new BBC, Benedict Cumberbatch series.  Serials leave you hanging to induce your tuning-in next week.  Characters matter, and so does acting, to give you those little doorways to pass through into the story so that you may follow the plot.  Television is a visual medium, after all, and perhaps there’s a larger American viewership and some young people who need a re-introduction.

Personally, I’m hoping for greater fidelity to the stories with a touch of real evil in the air.  Holmes is playing a kind of chess, with serious consequences.  He’s brilliant and formidable and what he does gritty and dangerous.  I like a grim realism and clear-eyed gaze cast upon human affairs along with the thrill of the hunt.

Don’t go entirely hip, metrosexual, and prime-time-crime if you’re able.  The reasoning is the thing, and that must be hard to deliver to a wide audience and translate from the page.


by Colin Angus Mackay

“I must take the view, your Grace, that when a man embarks upon a crime, he is morally guilty of any other crime which may spring from it.”

-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A discussion of deductive and inductive reasoning here, as it might relate to solving crimes (which is highly dramatized in our culture, perhaps partly due to Holmes).

Strange Maps has this.

221B Baker Street page here.

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Categories: Art, Literature, Media, Public Debate

Author:chr1

An independent blogger seeking to discuss deeply while keeping an open mind. I'm mostly on the right, but living in Seattle I have to think about what that means on a daily basis. I like to read philosophy.

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2 Comments on “From Mark Litwak: ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Public Domain’”

  1. January 12, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

    The Litwak article certainly illustrates the absurdity of copyright law. The authors of most classic works of literature never received one penny of copyright royalties. It’s time to abolish this last vestige of mercantilism when privileges and monopolies were protected to favor special interests.

    • January 13, 2014 at 7:50 am #

      Malcolm,

      Well said.

      I’m guessing they’ll always be some greed, protected interests, self-interest and copyright issues surrounding successful works of art, and they’ll always be some artists creating works of value to others who aren’t exactly thinking about that value in the same way.

      Good artists, even when motivated by money, are usually aiming for something quite different

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