Copyright? It’s Elementary, My Dear Watson.

Considering the plethora of commercials hyping it, you’ve probably heard that there’s a new Sherlock Holmes movie (appropriately titled Sherlock Holmes) coming out on Christmas day. Toss this one into the huge collection of film versions of the noted fictional detective. Was there ever a franchise more lucrative than Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic sleuth? Just check out this web site if you’re curious how many different actors have played the role over the years.

But here’s a legal question concerning the famous Mr. Holmes. Was the character of Holmes copyrighted? The stories most definitely were, and my understanding is that, although the copyright has expired on most of Sir Arthur’s works (he died in 1930), at least one of his books is still protected under American copyright law. Still, that doesn’t answer the question of whether his most famous character was copyrighted.

Traditionally, you can’t copyright a character. You can only copyright the specific expression of that character’s participation in a creative work. But the courts have found some occasions where a character, itself, is so unique in appearance and traits as to be copyrightable in and of itself. Most often, those copyrightable characters tend to be cartoons and/or superheroes. Sherlock Holmes had extraordinary abilities, but he wasn’t Superman.

Still, as I perused the web in search of an answer, I found more than a couple of references to the ownership of the copyright to the character of, rather than the stories about, Sherlock Holmes. I don’t know if they’re accurate accounts. But I’d be curious to know if someone’s collecting a royalty check on just the title character in the new movie.

More than 120 years after first making his appearance, the master sleuth of Baker Street still provides a good mystery.

A Desire Named "Streetcar"

Apparently, there's talk around Broadway about taking the current Brooklyn Academy of Music production of Tennessee Williams' classic, A Streetcar Named Desire, featuring Cate Blanchett in the role of Blanche DuBois, and moving it across the East River to a Broadway theater.

Why should that raise a legal issue? Well, Actor's Equity (the actor union) has rules about the percentage of non-American actors it allows to traipse about the boards on a Broadway stage in any given show, and Ms. Blanchett's production features a cast of Australian actors from her Sydney Theater Company.

Yes, there are legal agreements about such things. And they're not just in the United States. Ask any professional actor how difficult it is for an American actor who's not an international household name to get permission to perform in London's West End.

Still, with these sort of things, money usually talks loudest. The show has reportedly been a big hit. So, if Ms. Blanchett's willing to do it again on Broadway, my guess is the legalities will someone get worked out.

A New Warning...Photoshop Could Be Dangerous to Your Self Esteme?

With all the ruckus that's been made over the years about the so-called impossible-to-duplicate-in-real-life images of women that grace the magazines and billboards, I'm surprised this proposal didn't originate on this side of "the Pond."

There are legislators in the United Kingdom and France who have proposed that retouched ad photos be required by law to carry warning labels specifically spelling out that the image has been retouched. The rationale behind the proposals has nothing to do with truth in advertising. Rather, it's suggested that young girls should be told that the images featuring those gorgeous feminine creatures they envy, and that make them self conscious, wouldn't be quite so gorgeous if it weren't for the post-production magic that alters the photos.

Now the question is this...What if the photoshopping is used not to enhance the image of the women in the photos but, rather, to enhance the product? Does that still count?

How Suite It Is for Some Artists

A friend brought up a topic the other day. She said she heard about some law where an artist who sells a work for a relatively small amount of money early in her career can be entitled to a small percentage of the profits if that work is later sold again for a larger sum of money (presumably when the artist has garnered some fame and her work has increased in value). Did my friend hear right?

Yes, she did. It's a legal doctrine known as droit de suite. As you can probably guess from the name, it was originated in France some years ago, and it has been embraced by other European countries.

Here in the United States, though, only California has some form of droit de suite, and it applies only to art that's either sold in California or where the art seller lives there.

Even Warhol Can't Paint from Beyond the Grave, Can He?

Oh, you've just gotta love this story out of the Salt Lake Tribune...

It seems a couple of people in Utah sold an art collector a painting by Andy Warhol that was a 1996 portrait of Matthew Baldwin, one of the famous Baldwin clan of actors. Just two little problems. First, there is no Matthew Baldwin in the famed Baldwin family, and, second, Andy Warhol died in 1987, a full nine years before the date written on the portrait.

I suppose, based on the above information, we could say there's also a third problem—one that's likely to involve some legal troubles for the sellers in this odd transaction. The painting is obviously a fraud. Or, more accurately, the painting really exists, but there's no question any claims that it's a genuine Warhol are, shall we say, a bit exaggerated.

According to the article, the sellers were charged with forgery as well as theft by deception and communications fraud. Does this count as their fifteen minutes of fame?