Public Domain Day advent calendar #9: Tagebücher by Theodor Herzl

“In previous years he had let the festival which for centuries had illuminated the marvel of the Maccabees with the glow of candles pass by unobserved. Now, however, he used it as an occasion to provide his children with a beautiful memory for the future.”

That’s a (translated) quote from “The Menorah”, a short story by Theodor Herzl originally published in Die Welt in 1897.  It seems an apt story both for Hanukkah, which ends at sundown tomorrow, and for illustrating Herzl’s own character.  Hanukkah, commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple, has themes of light and self-determination for Jews.  Herzl, too, envisioned a brighter, self-determined future for the Jewish people.  He was an advocate of Zionism so influential that he was mentioned by name, decades after his death, in the 1948 Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel as “the spiritual father of the Jewish State”.

Herzl died in 1904, so most of his writings, including “The Menorah”, have been in the public domain for a while. (This page links to online copies of many of his writings.)  But US copyright law treats unpublished works differently from published ones.  For instance, unpublished works have been the only ones entering the public domain here for the last 20 Public Domain Days– specifically, works that had not been published before 2003 or registered for copyright before 1978, by authors who died more than 70 years ago.  Back in 1923, though, unpublished works were under indefinite “common-law” copyright.  The limited-time statutory copyright terms of federal copyright law started once a work was published or registered for copyright.

Thus, the US copyright clock for Herzl’s diaries (or “Tagebücher” in German) would not start until their first publication, well after his death, in 1922 and 1923.  The first volume of a three-volume edition was published and copyrighted in 1922, and is in the public domain now.  Copyrights for the other two volumes were registered effective January 1, 1923, and renewed in 1950.  Those volumes, then, are still in copyright in the US for another 23 days, but at the new year, the complete edition will be in the public domain here.

The first published edition of a revered figure’s private papers is not always the best.  In “Theodor Herzl’s Diaries as a Bildungsroman”, published in the Spring-Summer 1999 issue of Jewish Social Studies, Shlomo Avineri writes that the compilers of the first edition “chose to erect an heroic monument, not provide a full text”.  Passages unflattering to Herzl or his contemporaries in the Zionist movement were cut, with no notice of the omissions.  “Such defensive strategies”, Avineri writes, “tend to diminish the stature of the person they aim to protect.”

A more complete version did not appear in print until the 1960s, says Avineri, and that was an American English translation.  The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, edited by Raphael Patai, was a 5-volume set translated from manuscripts in the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem, and published in New York by the Theodor Herzl Foundation.  It was registered for copyright in 1961, with a 1960 copyright notice.  Unlike the 1922-1923 edition, though, copyright for this version was not renewed, as was required for US publications of the time.

So is this better version in the public domain now?  Probably not, in my view, since the work includes translations of previously published German diary entries that are still under copyright– namely, those portions first published in the 1923 volumes.  But come January 1, the copyright for those 1923 volumes will expire in the US, and if there were no other earlier publications for what was first published in Patai’s edition, then we may have this edition, as well as the 1922-1923 first edition, joining the public domain in the US then.

I’m not an expert in the publishing history of Herzl’s papers, or in all the ins and outs of copyrights of unpublished and partly-published works.  Comments who know more about either are welcome.

Happy Hanukkah to all my readers who celebrate it!

 

 

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Public Domain Day advent calendar #8: Yes! We Have no Bananas by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn

1923 was a big year for novelty songs.   We’ve already noted “Barney Google”, one of the hits of the year.  On Twitter, Bill Higgins, who recalls his mother singing that song when he was young, reminded me of an even bigger novelty hit, “Yes! We Have No Bananas”.  The rapid expansion of radio broadcasting quickly put the the song into the ears of listeners across the country and beyond, and its sheet music reportedly sold 2 million copies within 3 months of its initial publication. Copyrighted in 1923, and renewed in 1950, the song will join the public domain 24 days from now.

What may not be recalled so much today is how much of the tune echoed earlier tunes by other writers. But many listeners of the time would have known, especially if they’d seen writer and musicologist Sigmund Spaeth perform.  His routine “New Tunes for Old”, a mixture of music and comedy similar in some ways to later routines by Victor Borge and Peter Schickele, had as its signature piece “Hallelujah, Bananas!”.  In it, Spaeth showed how the chorus to “Yes! We Have No Bananas” could be stitched together (with a bit of tugging of the rhythms and keys) almost entirely from bits of Handel’s Messiah, the Scottish folk-tune “My Bonnie”, the operatic aria “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls”, John Fletcher’s “Seeing Nellie Home”, and Cole Porter‘s 1919 hit “An Old-Fashioned Garden”.

How much of this resemblance was deliberate recycling, and how much was just coincidence?  At least some of it was deliberate; in particular, the “old fashioned to-mah-to” phrase in “Bananas” is sung to the melodic motif of Porter’s “Old Fashioned Garden”, and an article about the song that appeared in the June 14, 1923 issue of Variety says that Porter’s publisher granted permission for that bit. On the other hand, Spaeth admits in The Common Sense of Music (1924) that the melodic phrase used for both “oh bring back my Bonnie to me” and “we have no bananas today” is a common melodic ending used in many songs.

With a limited number of tones in the western scale, and a limited number of common chord progressions, patterns, and basic rhythms, pretty much every song reuses elements from other songs.  If the “Bananas” chorus could be completely derived from one previous work, one could make a credible argument for plagiarism, but having to quote five different works to reconstruct (most of) the chorus supports the argument that the chorus is mostly an original melange of generic musical patterns that live in the public domain.  Indeed, after Spaeth became famous from his performances and books, he was frequently called as an expert witness to make arguments of that sort in court cases alleging musical plagiarism

If someone had brought such a plagiarism suit against “Yes! We Have No Bananas”, it would have also helped that the songs Spaeth cites in his routine (other than the licensed “Old Fashioned Garden”) were legally in the public domain as well.  Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus premiered in the 18th century; the “My Bonnie” melody is a traditional folk tune; “Marble Halls” dates from 1843; and “Seeing Nellie Home” is from the 1850s.  Since US copyright terms in 1923 ran a maximum of 56 years, copyrights to any of these works had expired well before “Bananas” came out.  If the 95-year maximum terms that now apply to 1923’s songs applied then, though, Silver and Cohn might have had more reason to be cautious in their composing.


Much of this article is based on what I learned from Gary A. Rosen’s book Unfair to Genius (2012) as well as Sigmund Spaeth’s Words and Music (1926).  I thank Kip Williams and Bill Higgins for pointing me towards these sources.  This song’s calendar entry goes out to the folks at Making Light, where the song and its predecessors were discussed some years back.  If you’d like to make your own requests or dedications, you can leave them as a blog comment or contact me.

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Public Domain Day advent calendar #7: New York Tribune (1923 issues)

In yesterday’s advent calendar post, I noted that in the 1920s, “newspapers and the comic strips that appeared in them were considered ephemeral, and copyright renewal was very rare”.  One newspaper that represents an exception to this rule is the New York Tribune, which now has active copyright renewals for all of its issues from January 1, 1923 onward. All of its 1923 issues will be joining the public domain 25 days from now.

As I see it, the Tribune‘s most distinctive additions  to the public domain in January will be its columns and features.  Those included regular pieces by Don Marquis, including new dispatches from his characters archy and mehitabel.   The Tribune also ran serialized fiction, as did many other newspapers then.  From July through September of 1923 it ran weekly installments of a new adventure of Hugh Lofting‘s Doctor Dolittle, one that would not be published in book form until 1948 (as Doctor Dolittle and the Secret Lake).

No other daily newspaper has copyright renewal filings for complete issues in 1923, except for the New York Herald (which merged with the Tribune in 1924 to form the New York Herald-Tribune). Our periodical renewal inventory notes renewals for 1923 New York Times magazine and book review sections, but not for complete Times issues that year.  There are some renewals for 1923 contributions to a few other newspapers, including a few of Harry C. Peterson‘s articles on California’s Gold Rush days that ran in the Oakland Tribune, and potboiler stories by Arthur Somers Roche that ran in the Elmira Telegram.  But overall, nearly everything published in American newspapers in 1923 (outside of New York’s Herald and Tribune) is already in the public domain.

I’ll be happy to see the New York Tribune and Herald available for digitization in January.  But even now we could be reading digitized news stories from 1923 in other public domain newspapers, and follow the further revelations in the Teapot Dome Scandal after President Harding’s sudden death in office, or read American coverage of the end of the Irish Civil War.  We could follow day-to-day the pennant races of the Yankees and the Giants, who would eventually face each other in the 1923 World Series, through New York’s other newspapers now in the public domain.  Right now, though, there’s not a whole lot of newspaper content freely readable online from 1923, compared to what’s available from 1922.

The main effect of Public Domain Day 2019 for American newspapers, then, is not so much putting a lot of 1923 newspaper content in the public domain, but making it much easier to know that 1923 newspaper content is in the public domain.  Once January 1 arrives, you can safely assume that the contents of any US newspaper with a 1923 dateline is free to digitize, share, and adapt. Before then, you may have to do a lot more research to be sure of that.  So there’s less of it online.

The draft guide for determining the copyright status of serial issues that I announced yesterday is meant to make it easier to tell whether something of interest in a newspaper, magazine, journal, or other serial from the mid-20th century is public domain.  Of those types of serials, newspapers will still be among the most challenging to copyright-clear, since many of them routinely included reprints from other publications or syndicated content.  But original news articles, which are often of the most historically interesting parts of newspapers, should be significantly easier to clear.  And I haven’t seen systematic renewals in the Catalog of Copyright Entries of syndicated comics or photos published before the 1930s, so many 1920s newspaper issues might not be that hard to clear in their entirety.  Magazines, which tend to rely less on reprints and syndications, should be less difficult to clear, and journals, which typically contain completely original articles, will probably be easier still.

I’m glad that the upcoming Public Domain Day will give us access to more of American newspaper memory, both through the outright expiration of copyright, and through putting another year’s worth of newspapers past the easy “bright line” for determining public domain status.  But I also want to make it easier to identify and bring back to light public domain newspapers and other serial content well past 1923.  There’s a lot to remember over the last 95 years, and much that can be forgotten over that length of time.

 

 

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Announcing a draft guide for identifying public domain serial content

Back in June, I announced that we had completed an inventory of all serials with active copyright renewals made through 1977, based on listings in the Copyright Office’s Catalog of Copyright Entries.  At the time, I said we’d also be releasing a draft of suggested procedures for using the information there, along with other data, to quickly identify and check public domain serial content. (If you’ve been following the Public Domain Day advent calendar I’ve been publishing this month, you’ll have seen the inventory or its records mentioned in some recent entries.)

It took a little longer than I’d hoped, but after having some librarians and IP experts have a look at it, I’m pleased to announce that the draft of “Determining copyright status of serial issues” is open for public comment.  I hope this will become something that people can use or adapt to identify public domain content of interest to them, so it can be digitized, adapted, or otherwise shared with the world.

It’s challenging to come up with a guide that will work for every audience, whether that’s folks wanting to digitize a lot of stuff quickly without a lot of fuss, or dig deeply into the status of certain publications they really want to work with, or who are lawyers or serious intellectual property nerds. But I hope the document I’ve produced will have some use for all these folks, and since it’ll be licensed CC-BY once it comes out of draft status, folks should be free to adapt it for more targeted audiences and projects.  (I’d also love to eventually see visually effective graphics or flow-charts based on it; graphic design of that sort isn’t really my forte.)

My aim at this point is to bring the document out of draft status at the start of next month.  (Public Domain Day would be a very appropriate time to make it official.)  If you want to comment on the draft, getting your comments to me by December 25 should give me enough time to make any appropriate responses or revisions.  You can email them to me at (ockerblo) at (upenn) dot (edu), or post a public comment on this blog post, or get a hold of me via my other public contacts or forums I frequent.

I’ll also be presenting on our serials copyright work at the CNI Fall Membership Meeting in Washington, as part of a panel session at 3:45pm Eastern Time this coming Monday, December 10.  I’ll be joined in the session by Greg Cram of the New York Public Library, who’s working on a searchable database of the contents of the Catalog of Copyright Entries, and Melissa Levine of the University of Michigan, lead author of “Finding the Public Domain: Copyright Review Management System Toolkit”, who’ll discuss potential roles that machine learning and crowdsourcing could play in future copyright research.  If you’ll be there, I’ll be happy to talk with you more during the conference.   For other folks, I’ll post slides and/or links to a stream or recording of the session if there is one.

My thanks again to the Institute of Museum and Library Services for supporting this work.

 

 

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Public Domain Day advent calendar #6: Barney Google (fox-trot) by Billy Rose and Con Conrad

“Barney Google, with the goo-goo-googly eyes,
Barney Google bet his horse would win the prize.
When the horses ran that day, Spark Plug ran the other way!
Barney Google, with the goo-goo-googly eyes!”

Several novelty songs introduced in 1923 have been remembered long afterwards.  The one quoted above is “Barney Google”,  written by Billy Rose (whose other songwriting credits include “Me and My Shadow” and “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?”) and Con Conrad.  The song’s registration with the Copyright Office calls it a “fox-trot”, the foxtrot being one of the most popular dances of the time. (The dance would stay popular up to the early days of rock’n’roll– the label on a 1953 single record for “Rock Around the Clock” describes it as a “novelty foxtrot” . But I digress.)

Originally performed by Eddie Cantor, “Barney Google” was also adopted by vaudeville acts like Olsen and Johnson, and other singers.  It was still recognizable enough by the 1970s to be adapted for TV commercials I recall seeing on Saturday mornings for a brand of sweetened peanut butter (“Koogle, with the koo-koo-koogly eyes!”)

Copyrighted in 1923, and renewed in 1950, the song will join the public domain 26 days from now.  It’s based on a comic strip whose beginnings are already in the public domain, and which is still running.

Barney’s comic strip was originally titled Take Barney Google, F’rinstance.  It began in 1919 in the Chicago Herald Examiner, but got a much wider distribution after King Features began syndicating it later that year.  It got even more popular with the introduction of Barney’s horse, Spark Plug, in 1922.  So when the “Barney Google” song came out the following year, listeners were already familiar with the characters in it.  Barney would also appear in numerous silent films and cartoons in the 1920s and 1930s.  In the 1930s, he met a hillbilly named Snuffy Smith, who would eventually take over the comic strip.  (It’s now titled “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith”, though when I read it in the papers as a kid, “Snuffy Smith” was in much bigger lettering, and I wondered who Barney Google was, since I never saw him in the strip. He’s reportedly made cameo appearances more recently.)

The early years of Barney Google’s strip are in the public domain, though you may have difficulty finding good copies.  For the most part, newspapers and the comic strips that appeared in them were considered ephemeral, and copyright renewal was very rare.  But after the success of Blondie and Superman, which both began in the 1930s, and the ongoing popularity of Disney’s characters, comics were increasingly seen as valuable intellectual property, and started to be renewed regularly.  A large number of periodicals in my periodical renewals inventory that renewed from the very first issue are comic books.

It’s a bit tricky to identify the point at which Barney Google’s strips stop being public domain and start having active copyright. You’ll search in vain for his name in book, periodical, or artwork renewal sections of the Catalog of Copyright Entries.  The first active copyright renewal covering the Barney Google strips, as far as I can tell, doesn’t mention his name at all.  It’s the renewal for the May 4, 1933 issue of King Features Comic Weekly, one of a set of periodicals from King Features that I have a hard time finding in any libraries.  It appears to have existed solely for distribution to newspapers, copyright protection, or both.  From what I can tell, the King Features weeklies included a copy of every comic strip, newspaper column, or other feature that King Features distributed.  Registering an issue with the Copyright Office would register the copyrights for the features it included.  And renewing the issue would also renew the copyrights to those features.

Those renewals also mean that any newspaper from May 1933 and onward running any of those renewed King Features comic strips still has some copyrighted material in it, even if there was no renewal for the newspaper itself or any of its other contents.  That may complicate cultural initiatives to put newspapers from that era online.  Later today, we’ll be releasing the draft of a guide for determining the copyright status of serials, which discusses some of the relevant issues (including that of syndicated features). I’ll have a special post on that shortly.  (Update: It’s out now.) And I’ll also discuss newspaper copyrights more in tomorrow’s calendar entry.

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Public Domain Day advent calendar #5: The Federal Reporter (1923 publications) by West Publishing

In yesterday’s post, I linked to a law review article that cited a court decision as “755 F.3d 496”.  That’s a kind of citation that pops up a lot both in law review articles, and in court decisions and briefings themselves.  It’s a reference to a decision as published in the third series of the Federal Reporter, volume 755, page 496.  The Federal Reporter isn’t a government publication, though– it’s a serial issued by the private firm of West Publishing, now a part of Thomson Reuters.  And it’s copyrighted.

In fact, it’s pretty emphatically copyrighted, like many other law reporters from private publishers.  If you look at the inventory I’ve compiled of early 20th-century serials with renewed copyrights, you’ll see that a lot of the serials with renewals all the way back to 1923 are law reporters or related legal publications.  West Publishing was particularly thorough with its renewals; for 1923, it renewed both initial issues of the Federal Reporter published shortly after the court decisions they cover, and “permanent edition” volumes, published a little bit later, that had updated and corrected copies of the ruling texts and accompanying notes.

It’s not surprising that West, and other legal publishers reporting on other jurisdictions, would be so assertive about copyright: If you publish something that’s a “must-have” for law firms, libraries, and other serious legal professionals, you can charge a lot of money for it.  Pricing for Westlaw, Thomson Reuters’ online database that includes the Federal Reporter, is hard to find, but third parties note that it can easily run well over $100 per month per user.  If I wanted instead to buy print copies of the Federal Reporter, the purchase options the publisher offers to me include buying individual volumes at $890 apiece, or buying the whole series as far back as 1993 for the low, low price of just over $30,000.  And this pricing reflects a time when readers have more choices than they have in the past for getting court decisions.  Nowadays, you can enter a recent federal case citation or a set of parties into Google or another search engine and have a pretty good chance of finding copies of the court’s rulings and decisions online.  In 1923, there was no Google, and most people had few or no options for obtaining authoritative copies of many court rulings or other laws other than through a private publisher’s law reporter.

This level of monopolization and pricing for law reporters may seem odd, given their contents.  By long-standing custom, the law is public domain in the United States.  Section 105 of US copyright law explicitly states “Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government“, and that includes the official rulings and opinions of the federal courts covered in the Federal Reporter.  So what can the publishers claim copyright on?

Historically, the answer has been “whatever they can get away with”.  That was a lot, even as late as the early days of the Web, when there were intense struggles to make the law freely available online.  Gary Wolf’s article “Who Owns the Law?”, published in Wired in 1994, gives us a detailed,  dark picture of the situation then.  Online access to much of the law was controlled by a duopoly of West and Lexis-Nexis (the latter now a part of RELX).  West claimed (and still claims) copyright to the summary headnotes and other annotations it added to cases.  That seems fairly reasonable in itself, as it can represent substantial original creative work.  But since those notes are interleaved with the issuances of the court in the reporters, it can be difficult for a lay person to determine what’s public domain and what’s not– and it also means that people can’t simply mass-digitize the reporters and put the page images online, like has been done for millions of completely public-domain books.   Hence, HathiTrust’s openly accessible run of the Federal Reporter as of today stops at volume 281, the last permanent-edition volume published in 1922.

But West went further than just claiming copyright on its annotations.  It also claimed copyright on its editing of the decision texts (including incorporating corrections as they were issued), and even on the page numbering system it used for the decisions.  As Wolf’s article notes, in the 1980s, the 8th Circuit supported West’s claims over its page numbering, which effectively gave it a monopoly as long as the court system used citations based on that page numbering system.  (West would later license the numbering system to Lexis-Nexis, but no one else had a license in the early 1990s.)

The situation would improve not long after Wolf’s article was published.  That same year, Hyperlaw sued West over its claims to copyright over its page numbering and edited versions of court decisions.  In 1998, the 2nd Circuit issued two rulings (158 F.3d 674 and 158 F.3d 693) that struck down West’s more expansive copyright claims.  As quoted by the Association of Research Libraries, the court ruled that “all of West’s alterations to judicial opinions involve the addition and arrangement of facts, or the rearrangement of data already included in the opinions, and therefore any creativity in these elements of West’s case reports lies in West’s selection and arrangement of this information. In light of accepted legal conventions and other external constraining factors, West’s choices on selection and arrangement can reasonably be viewed as obvious, typical, and lacking even minimal creativity.”  On that basis, the Second Circuit denied copyright protections to them, and to their page numbering system.  (A detailed contemporary analysis of the case, published after the district court ruled but before the appeals court did, can be found in Peter Thottam’s 1998 article, “Matthew Bender v. West Publishing”, published in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal.)

Since then, it’s become much easier to find court opinions online, including those derived from the Federal Reporter and other law reporters, complete with page number citations, but stripped of any external annotations.  And even those annotations may not always be copyrighted.  A recent decision by the 11th Circuit notes that when annotations are “an inextricable part of the official codification” of the law, they might not qualify for copyright protection.  In Georgia, an annotated code was declared to be the official version of state law, and Georgia asserted a copyright over it based on the annotations.  (Ironically, those annotations were made by Matthew Bender and Co., the same firm that challenged West’s expansive copyright claims to its law reporters.)  After Georgia sued Public.resource.org, an organization that digitized the complete annotated code, the appeals court ruled that “no valid copyright interest can be asserted in any part” of the annotated code.  (There’s a nice summary of this case and some related ongoing legal actions at the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is representing Public.resource.org.)

Could this ruling serve as a precedent to open up other annotated publications, such as, for instance, annotated court decisions, if they were effectively the official records of those decisions?  I can’t say for sure, or whether that would apply to older volumes of the Federal Reporter, since I’m not a lawyer and don’t have deep knowledge of how that publication was treated back in the 1920s.  But I find it an interesting question to consider.  In the meantime, we’ll have some more Federal Reporter volumes entering the public domain the long way, via expiration of their copyright terms, 27 days from now.


I say above that “there was no Google” in 1923.  Strictly speaking, there was a Google then: not the search and advertising company we know today, but another Google that was the brand of a media franchise that continues to this day.  It’s partly in the public domain now, and more of it will be in the public domain next month.  I’ll talk more about it, and the challenges in determining which parts are in the public domain, in tomorrow’s calendar entry.

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Public Domain Day advent calendar #4: The Adventure of the Creeping Man by Arthur Conan Doyle

As I noted in yesterday’s post, under US copyright law we sometimes get early works by long-lived authors in our public domain earlier than most other countries do. But we also often have to wait longer for authors’ late works.  Today I consider the case of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his most famous creation, the ingenious detective Sherlock Holmes.

Like some of the other authors I’ve mentioned to date, Sir Arthur had a long writing career, and published writings on a variety of subjects.  He wrote in support of British actions in the South African War (commonly cited as the reason for the knighthood awarded to him in 1902).  Late in his career, he also wrote surprisingly credulously on alleged visitations of fairies, based on suspiciously composed photographs eventually admitted by their creators to be fakes.  Today, though, he’s best known for Holmes, who made his debut in A Study in Scarlet (1887), and appeared in a wildly popular series of stories that ran until the author got tired of him and killed him off in “The Adventure of the Final Problem” (1893).

It didn’t stick, though.  Public demand for more Holmes stories led the author to publish another Holmes novel in 1901 (but set before his plunge over the Reichenbach Falls), The Hound of the Baskervilles.  By 1903, Conan Doyle gave in and brought Holmes back to life in “The Adventure of the Empty House”, one of the more famous early examples of retroactive continuity now common in comics and other long-running entertainment series.  Conan Doyle would continue to publish Holmes stories, at a somewhat slower pace than before, through 1927, the same year the last ones were collected in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes.

Conan Doyle died in 1930, so his published works entered the public domain in the UK and many other countries in 1981, after 50 years had passed from his death.  In 2001, they entered the public domain under “life + 70 years” regimes (which the UK and many other countries had adopted in the interval).  But while early Holmes stories have been in the public domain in the United States for a long time, his last stories are still under copyright here.  Their copyright terms start with their first publication, though, and the last stories were published in magazines before they were published in the Case-Book.  In particular, “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” was published in the March 1923 issues of both the Strand Magazine and Hearst’s International.  The author’s children renewed the copyright to the story in 1950, and copyrights were also routinely renewed for Hearst’s issues.  US copyrights for the story, and for the other content in the 1923 issues of Hearst’s, will end 28 days from today.

The character of Sherlock Holmes was well-established in his early stories, and many Holmes fans consider the later Case-Book stories relatively minor.  That hasn’t stopped the Conan Doyle estate from claiming proprietary rights over Holmes stories generally, though, based on its US copyrights to the last few stories.  When the estate tried to block an anthology of new Holmes stories that Leslie Klinger planned to publish, unless he got permission and paid a fee, Klinger sued for a declaratory judgment that he did not need any such permission.  In 2014, the 7th Circuit agreed with him, noting that Klinger was not proposing to reuse elements introduced in the late stories, and that the “the alterations [in those stories] do not revive the expired copyrights on the original characters”.  In a later ruling, the same court awarded Klinger attorney’s fees from the estate,  calling their practices “a form of extortion” and saying “It’s time the estate, in its own self-interest, changed its business model”.

A more detailed legal analysis of the case can be found in Jessica L. Malekos Smith’s article “Sherlock Holmes & the Case of the Contested Copyright” (2016).  That article refers to the initial ruling I’ve linked above under the citation “755 F.3d 496”.  That notation, cryptic as it may appear to laypeople, refers to a commonly cited legal source that has had its own copyright controversies, and that also includes material that will soon be added to the public domain.  I’ll talk about it more in tomorrow’s calendar entry.

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