Sherlock Holmes: Doyle Estate Sues Over Ian McKellan’s ‘Mr. Holmes’

The estate of Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes series of books, has initiated a lawsuit against Miramax, Roadside Attractions, and director Bill Condon. The estate contends that the film Mr. Holmes, which stars Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes, violates copyright laws by infringing on those stories still protected.

Additionally, the lawsuit has been expanded to include Mitch Cullin and Penguin Random House for the publication of the Cullin novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, which is a new Sherlock Holmes tale on which Mr. Holmes is based.

Mr. Holmes, starring Ian McKellen and Laura Linney, centers on an older, retired Sherlock Holmes, who becomes drawn into an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman as he looks back on his life.

“Reviews of its early screenings, together with trailers released in the United States, reveal that the motion picture uses the same elements from Conan Doyle’s copyrighted stories,” asserts Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate in the lawsuit.

It is noted in the lawsuit that many of the Sherlock Holmes stories are currently in the public domain, no longer protected, but there are 10 works, published between 1923 and 1927, that are still protected under copyright laws. Those works specifically deal with the subject matter of Sherlock Holmes in retirement and later life, the lawsuit contends.

The lawsuit further states that author Mitch Cullin “copied entire passages from Conan Doyle’s copyrighted story The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier. Cullin took from that story the creative point of view of Holmes rather than Watson narrating a detective story — and the plot behind it: that Watson has remarried and moved out of Baker Street.”

This isn’t the first time there has been a legal issue raised over Sherlock Holmes stories. The Doyle estate was successfully sued by author Leslie Klinger, after the estate attempted to charge licensing fees to authors contributing to an anthology of Sherlock Holmes stories written by contemporary authors. The estate attempted to appeal that ruling, but the Supreme Court denied the claim, instead choosing to let the rulings of lower courts stand. Those rulings determined that all but the aforementioned 10 stories remain in the public domain and are therefore free to use as source material for modern-day authors.

The lawsuit, which claims copyright and trademark infringement, seeks damages and payment from profits accrued by Cullin’s novel and the Miramax film.

The estate explains in the suit that it does license Sherlock Holmes for use in the BBC series Sherlock, CBS’ Elementary, and Warner Bros.’ Sherlock Holmes films.

[Featured Image: Ian McKellen courtesy of Miramax Films]