Copyrights can be a tricky thing with a lot of legal complications. Most of you probably did not know that a copyright does not last forever, but it’s true. You see more and more cases of this in the news every day. That is why is so vital for the person who wants to copyright a work of theirs to know how the process works and to do it with the advice of experienced intellectual property lawyers. With the internet and other media so easily accessed these days this becomes more important than ever.
The United States views copyrights to last 95 years or the life of the creator of that copyright plus 70 years (it can very slightly depending on whether it was a hired work and when the first publishing was). That is not a lot of time for something that may be sourced for many years to come and has some value to it.
A recent court case that is now setting precedent in the USA is that of Leslie Klinger, an author who is expanding on the Sherlock Holmes Books, versus the estate of the original Sherlock Holmes Author, writer Arthur Conan Doyle. The estate first threatened to sue Mr. Klinger when he was getting ready to publish his first book back in 2011, but his publisher stepped in and paid $5000 dollars in fees to get the license and permission to publish. Apparently as he gets ready to publish a second book, he has convinced his new publisher that the Sherlock Holmes character indeed lives in the public domain. The difference this time is that Mr. Klinger chose to sue first.
A judge sided with Mr. Klinger and firmly stated that copyrights do indeed expire and then the work enters the public domain. The Estate of the deceased Mr. Doyle’s argument was that in the ten books that remain under copyright the character was unfinished so that should extend the copyright. The judge did not buy it and ruled Mr. Klinger was entitled to publish his new book without having to pay a licensing fee.
The outcome here might have been quite different if the Estate of Mr. Doyle had pressed to have its copyright extended before any cases went to trial. Now a precedent has been set and that becomes all but impossible.
It underscores the necessity to be informed about a copyright holders legal rights and the need to be proactive in securing copyright extensions before they are left up to a decision by the courts. This clearly shows there is no substitute for informed legal advice when it comes to copyrights and other intellectual property rights. If you hold a copyright that may expire soon or are seeking to apply for one, make sure you have an experienced intellectual property legal team guiding you through the process.