Enforcing Copyright to ensure heterosexuality

It’s always amusing (and a bit worrying) to read the reactions to claims that fictional characters may be gay. In the beginning of last year articles like Of course Tintin’s gay. Ask Snowy caused an uproar.

And now the pressure is on Sherlock Holmes. He has always been a bit suspicious. His relationship to Dr Watson a bit too much. Even if he does fall in love with a client in an episode of the tv series he never marries, never has a girlfriend. Watson is more of a ladies man, but never really leaves the relationship with Holmes. In the latest movie with Robert Downey Jr as the detective and Jude Law as Dr Watson the characters wrestle and share a bed.

In an interview on Downey Jr wondered whether Holmes was “a butch homosexual”. This has apparently annoyed Andrea Plunket the copyright holder who threatens to withdraw permission for a sequel if Holmes and Watson become gayer.

“I hope this is just an example of Mr. Downey’s black sense of humour. It would be drastic, but I would withdraw permission for more films to be made if they feel that is a theme they wish to bring out in the future. “I am not hostile to homosexuals, but I am to anyone who is not true to the spirit of the books.” (Times Live)

Using Copyright to ensure heterosexuality is an interesting application. I doubt whether this was the reason for the law. For us copyright nerds Arthur Conan Doyle died 7 July 1930 – in other words almost 80 years ago. But then on sherlockholmesonline.org explains their licensing grounds and also has an interesting heredity of the Conan Doyle Estate.

In the EC, the entire work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle enjoys copyright protection until 31 December 2000. After that date, a number of characters created by the author will enjoy trademark protection.

In the US, the Sony Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1997 (105th Congress, 1st Session H.R. 604 ) has extended the renewal term of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works among others for an additional 20 years. This means that all works published after December 31, 1922 are protected for 95 years following the date of publication.

So no outing of Sherlock is allowed without Andrea Plunket’s permission. As for her argument about “not true to the spirit of the books” – the new film shows Sherlock doing many things that are not in the books so even this seems to be an arbitrary choice.



Claims by Andrea Plunket, the ex-wife of the late Sheldon Reynolds, who produced a Sherlock Holmes TV series in the 1950s, that she controls the Holmes copyrights and can withhold her approval of a sequel if she regards the content to be unacceptable were denounced Tuesday by Chicago attorney Jon Lellenberg, the administrator of the Estate of Dame Jean Conan Doyle. In an email statement, Lellenberg said that the estate signed three contracts with Warner Bros.: one for character rights in the Sherlock Holmes movie, another for merchandising rights, and  the third for a related Tom & Jerry cartoon. He noted that the estate has won numerous federal court cases filed by Plunket and is currently trying to collect on several judgments against her for attorneys fees and costs in those cases. Asked whether it is possible that Plunket also signed a contract with Warner Bros., Lellenberg replied that if the studio “paid her something re nuisance value … we will go after it to discharge the judgments against her.” Attempts to reach a spokesman for Warner Bros. to comment on the matter were unsuccessful.