Posts tagged sherlock holmes copyright
Posts tagged sherlock holmes copyright
I’m way behind the times, but I’m shocked I didn’t catch wind of this while it was happening.
So, first of all… Most of the Sherlock Holmes stories have expired into the public domain. In the U.K. and Canada, they’ve all outlived their copyright years. In America, however, a few stories remain in copyright… though under whose name is often misunderstood.
In the 1950ies, the copyrights were controlled by a man named Sheldon Reynolds, who produced the Ron Howard version of Sherlock Holmes.
Andrea Plunket was Sheldon Reynold’s wife, and after they became divorced in 1990, she fought to maintain ownership of the copyrights to Conan Doyle’s works. Her claims were rejected in court, but Plunket continued to operate as though she owned the copyrights anyway. This eventually resulted in a lawsuit by the Doyle family—or, Conan Doyle Estate Ltd.—which Plunket lost. However, she has not paid the Doyle heirs any damages—in fact, she went back to court to plead that she is not financially capable of paying the $135,000 [$185,000 in other sources] sum.
The court agrees, though the matter of her finances are wrought with oddity, as Ms. Plunket was once a millionaire. She reportedly gave up her entire fortune in the 80ies after her run as Claus von Bulow’s mistress, who was famously acquitted of poisoning his own wife with insulin. Plunket has stated in some interviews that seeing such a horrendous act committed in the name of money left a bad taste in her mouth. She has said in others that she never thought von Bulow was guilty. The Doyle heirs claim that Plunket is hiding the true extent of her fortunes. Plunket claims that she is merely the steward of her current business, a B&B called Pannonia Farms. Who knows.
Point is that a certain Guy Ritchie film made a big smash at the box office, and shortly after, the film’s star—Robert Downey Jr.—appeared on Letterman to talk about the movie and dropped the words “butch homosexual”. This, admit waxing poetic about the Holmes and Watson “bromance”.
Cue Andrea Plunket.
She actually went on record, threatening to withdraw permission for the sequel’s creation if ”that is a theme they [the creators] wish to bring out in the future.” Her full statement is actually pretty cutting, and looks like it belongs inside a dripping speech bubble. Dripping with homophobia, that is.
“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.” She’s careful to tack on the disclaimer: “I am not hostile to homosexuals, but I am to anyone who is not true to the spirit of the books.”
Funny thing is, according to a Warner Bro.’s spokesperson, neither Ms. Plunket nor the Doyle heirs were paid any money for the movie’s creation. The Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. is capable of placing their official trademark approval on Sherlock Holmes projects, but since all the stories are out of copyright in the U.K. and Canada, it doesn’t seem like they have too much ground to stand on if they want to go head-to-head with a Hollywood studio to collect royalties on their common-law claims. Of course, the production of Sherlock Holmes artwork is one thing; claiming to own the copyrights is another, hence the aggressive legal action against Andrea Plunket.
What upsets me the most about this tangled web of nonsense is that any person, whether they own a thread of Sherlock Holmes’ coattails or not, would use the Sherlock Holmes legacy as a disguise for their own homophobia. Really, of all things. I’ve already explained in detail here why the manic push-back against a queer interpretation of this material is so entirely without grounds and quite frankly silly. (Hint: ACD was completely aware of the popular “bachelor genre” he skirted and what its audience was; he was personally acquainted with some of the progenitors of queer culture as we know it; hell, one of his own relatives wrote slash fiction based on his works! “Shipping” Holmes and Watson as nothing new, even in Doyle’s time.) To be clear, I’m saying “push-back against a queer interpretation.” Doyle likely didn’t intend for there to be romantic friction, but in terms of this being a valid way to enjoy the material, and well within the spirit of the books, you don’t need to look far to see its deep cultural roots.
Hell, you don’t need to look far to see it referenced overtly or covertly in popular Sherlock Holmes media—especially now, in modern day, when references to queerness (though not direct, protagonist-oriented treatments of it) are deemed acceptable for public consumption. Until they tucked tail in the second season, BBC’s Sherlock, for example, strolled onto the screen with uncanny knowledge about popular gay male underwear brands, at least two long-standing friends who “knew” from off-camera experience that their friend was gay, and, well, then there’s this:
Watson: Do you have a boyfriend? Which is fine, by the way.
Holmes: I know it’s fine.
Watson: I’m just saying, it’s all fine.
Holmes: Thank you.
Meanwhile, in the Guy Ritchie films:
“Lie with me, Watson.”
I swear they were just mocking the Plunkets of that world at that point.
Bottom line: queerness has been an inextricable part of the Sherlock Holmes fandom and franchise since the stories were written, and to pretend otherwise—much less to self-righteously, angrily insist otherwise—is certainly nothing more than a thinly veiled expression of deep-seeded homophobia. The canon material—not to mention the canon author, who was frequently quoted as “not giving a fuck what you do with my characters”—is so generous as to allow for heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and asexual interpretations of the protagonist. Really, there isn’t an angle that hasn’t been worked by somebody, somewhere.
To pretend for a second that those who read the relationship between Holmes and Watson as a queer one are not legitimate members of this century-old fandom, are not allowed their fair share of artistic derivatives, and are not operating within the “spirit of the books”, is to utterly, utterly delude oneself.
In short: fuck you, Plunket.
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Greedy Homophobic Socialite @ Change.org
Judge rules Arthur Conan Doyle Heirs Can’t recoup legal fees @ Nydailynews.com
Notes on the ownership of the Sherlock Holmes stories @ Sherlockian.net
Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. @ Conandoyleestate.co.uk
Sheldon Reynolds (producer) @ Wikipedia.org
Andrea Plunket @ Imdb.org
Andrea Reynolds @ People.com
Robert Downey Jr hints Sherlock Holmes was gay @ Telegraph.co.uk