1. NateSean
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    NateSean Active Member

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    Mystery Who Can Publish a Sherlock Holmes Story?

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by NateSean, May 19, 2014.

    A number of writers have handled the Sherlock Holmes characters over the years. There are two currently running modern takes on Holmes being handled by two different channels on opposite sides of The Pond. (Please don't turn this thread into a debate over which is better)

    Is Sherlock Holmes public domain?
     
  2. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Yes. A US federal judge declared Sherlock Holmes to be in the public domain last year.
     
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  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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  4. NateSean
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    NateSean Active Member

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    That was interesting. I wonder of the Doyle descendants ever thought about continuing the stories on their own, which might have given them more claim to the copyright. Still it gives me a glimmer of hope.
     
  5. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm glad this is happening. I had a similar problem with Betty Boop, I took a picture of my t shirt reflected in a water drop, to show Betty. When I wanted to include it in a calendar, the publisher asked that I get the permission. two weeks later, and multiple conversations with some seedy producer on the outskirts of Hollywood, and I was told that no, only their approved merchandise is allowed to show the image of Betty. Ridiculous.
     
  6. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Call me naive, but I've always thought that copyrights, patents and trademarks should not be transferrable or inheritable and should expire when the original creator does.
     
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  7. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @jazzabel and Chinese producers of children socks :)
     
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  8. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    So from what I understand, public domain characters mean that anyone can use a public domain character such as Sherlock Holmes in their mystery stories? So I could, theoretically, write a story about a kid Sherlock Holmes and an adult Dr. Waston in 1910s London?

    But doesn't that seem kind of weird? At least to me it does, I'm using a character, or a set of characters someone else created. Doesn't that strike as laziness? I could have easily made up two different characters to put in my hypothetical story, but I used well-known characters.
     
  9. Chaos Inc.
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    Chaos Inc. Active Member

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    @Link the Writer, I ask myself the same thing about movies all the time. Michael Bay is taking TNMNT and turning it into something unrecognizable. I won't see it because it's not TNMNT. If he took some other characters, back story, and setting and applied what he's going to do with them, I'd probably see it.

    The reason why people retell stories en masse is because of the "short-term profitability" factor. Consider how an original movie's quality is usually better than the squeal, however, the sequel makes more money. People are aware of the story/movie, remember how good it was, go out in droves to see the sequel only to be suckered. By taking something that already exists, you have a built in audience.

    While I'm biased against anything that isn't original, I do like to see new interpretations of older material. Both the Sherlock Holems films and Sherlock series from the BBC are great retelling of Doyle's stories. They add either significant style or realistic modernization to a "dated" character.
     
  10. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    ^ Interesting that you said that, Chaos. I've just read an article about public domain characters by Robert Smedley from fuelyourwriting.com, and to sum up, this was his argument:

    + If you want to write a public domain character, you have to do three things.

    First, you have to research the character, read up on the lore and history of this character, what the audience has come to expect out of him/her. You have to stick true to the original character as much as possible. So no, Oliver Twist isn't going to suddenly fly around and shoot laser beams out of his eyes and use a magical shout to take down ancient monsters. That wasn't what he did in the original.

    Second, you have to ask yourself if this character's story is still open, that is, is there something else for this character to do with regard to his/her theme. If he/she already learned his/her lesson at the end of the original story, or died, then there's no real point in bringing them back.

    Third, and lastly, you have to figure out how to introduce something new to a character that had been written about for possibly centuries.

    +++

    That was the gist of his argument. Not sure if I should be posting links or his entire article, though. :/ If it's required, I will.
     
  11. Bromabo
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    Bromabo Member

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    Sounds like good guidelines. Or are they rules?
    I know for example that in my country a goverment authority reported a company for using a public domain poem in one of their advertisement. The content of the ad was so totally unappropriated for the poem so they reported the company for using it in a way which diminished it's value or something like that and they had to remove it.
     
  12. Devlin Blake
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    Devlin Blake Member

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    A good writer to look at is Gregory Maguire. He built an empire of 'retelling' familiar stories in unfamiliar ways. Mirror Mirror, Wicked and Son of a Witch were always my favorites.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In some cases, you can get a result with the well-known characters that wasn't possible with the characters that you made up. Your reader has a lifetime of opinions and feelings about the well-known characters, and those provide the opportunity to add richness to certain works. And while you might argue that the writer isn't entitled to that richness, I don't see the opportunity as being about the individual writer. I see it as us, as a society, having something to say about certain stories, and when copyright lasts too long, I think that part of the vocabulary of images and complex ideas that society can use to express itself, is taken away.

    The theme of It's a Wonderful Life has been re-expressed a zillion different ways. A Christmas Carol has similarly been done a zillion ways. West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet. Rent is La Boheme. Wicked is based on The Wizard of Oz. Kurosawa has retold at least two Shakespeare plays in film. Really, Shakespeare's been redone a zillion times, and Shakespeare himself took his plots and characters from older works (and arguably repeatedly stole from himself). Edited to add: I left out Santa Claus and probably dozens of other characters that we're so used to freely using that it wouldn't occur to me to add them.

    There are plenty of idea and characters and images that resonate with our society that we don't get to use to express ourselves--most superheroes, for example. I dislike the fact that we will probably never be able to legally use any of those things, because our highest legal priority has to be ensuring that Mickey Mouse never, ever gains his freedom.

    Rant. Gnash. (Not at you. At Congress and Disney and other parties responsible for effectively infinite copyright.)
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2014
  14. Chiv
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    Chiv Active Member

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    Sounds like justified fan-fiction. I agree. This is incredibly lazy and I cannot describe how much it annoys me. In my eyes it is only one step up from fan-fic.
     
  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    West Side Story?

    I'm just saying.
     
  16. Devlin Blake
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    Devlin Blake Member

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    I guess you hate Wicked don't you? Or Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty Trilogy. Or anything made by Disney. Or Stephen King's Rose Red. Or Pet Sematary. Or Night of the Living Dead. (OK, that last one's not a book, but it is based on the middle section of one.) I could go on.

    A culture only advances by standing on the shoulders of giants.
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2014
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    As another example, my understanding is that most of Shakespeare's plots were taken from older plots.
     

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