As a journalist and a writer, I care very much about protecting copyright laws.
A writer should not have his or her words hijacked into other works such as plays, TV series, etc., or published by another without his or her permission.
But how long should a copyright last? And when does a work, or a body of work, go into public domain? Do we pay Shakespeare’s heirs for his plays? If we did, then whoever his descendants are must be wealthy.
Which brings me a lawsuit recently been filed over licensing fees for the Sherlock Holmes works of Arthur Conan Doyle.
First, Sherlock Holmes continues to be popular. This isn’t anything new as it seems that Holmes’ game is afoot nearly every year with short stories, novels, and novellas.
Filmed versions of Sherlock are at the movies with Robert Downey Jr. as the great detective and Jude Law as John Watson. CBS’ Elementary has the odd pairing of Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson. BBC’s Sherlock reboots the tales with Sherlock played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) as Watson, who, in the 21st century, blogs about their adventures.
Other shows such as CBS’ The Mentalist and A&E’s Psych are directly inspired by Sherlock’s powers of observation.
But now, more than 125 years, since the brilliant Sherlock came on the scene, some are wondering just how long those copyright laws must last.
Leslie S. Klinger, the editor of three wonderful volumes of the Annotated Sherlock Holmes and other books, has filed a civil complaint that states that “many licensing fees paid to the Arthur Conan Doyle estate have been unnecessary, since the main characters and elements of their story derived from materials published before Jan. 1, 1923, are no longer covered by United States copyright law,” according to a New York Times story.
Klinger’s complaint, according to the New York Times, “stems from In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of Holmes-related stories by various authors, edited by Mr. Klinger and Laurie R. King, herself the author of a successful mystery series featuring Mary Russell, Holmes’s wife.”
Klinger’s suit doesn’t challenge the fact that “Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. was “the sole and exclusive owner” of the material that remains under copyright.”
Nor is he trying to interfere “with the estate’s legitimate rights,” according to the newspaper. But Klinger said in the New York Times that “the stories in the new collection avoided drawing on elements introduced in any of the 10 Holmes stories published after Jan. 1, 1923, which remain under copyright until 2023.”
On the website Free-Sherlock.com, Klinger said: “It is true that some of Conan Doyle’s stories about Holmes are still protected by the U.S. copyright laws. However, the vast majority of the stories that Conan Doyle wrote are not. The characters of Holmes, Watson, and others are fully established in those fifty ‘public-domain’ stories. Under U.S. law, this should mean that anyone is free to create new stories about Holmes and Watson.”
More to the story is at the New York Times and at Free-Sherlock.
Now, this is just my opinion and no one else’s, but I think that Klinger has a point. Stories inspired by Sherlock are a vast difference from those that blatantly co-op a piece of work. What’s protection and what is greed?
Klinger’s work on Sherlock and the nearly 3,000-page Annotated volumes are more than just impressive; these three books show a scholar unmatched with a vast knowledge of his subject and an infinite attention to detail.
Those who have not read Laurie King’s wonderful series that began in 1994 with The Beekeeper's Apprentice, should do themselves a favor and order each of the 13 novels in this series. And start at the beginning. While King’s series pays homage to Sherlock and honor the character, King also deserves kudos for writing a series that both adults and young adults can savor. I would have loved a book such as The Beekeeper's Apprentice when I was 13 years old. Mary Russell would have been a kindred spirit for me.
It doesn’t matter how any of feel about this lawsuit—that’s for the courts to decide. Klinger and King have both brought renewed attention to Sherlock Holmes, showing that the Great Detective is timeless.
Writers such as John Shannon and Stieg Larsson get down to the dirty business of social commentary.
Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Courtesy Music Box Films.
Once upon a time, private eyes displayed about as much personal growth as rocks. Flinty-eyed investigators with hearts of stone and skulls to match were slugged, shot, and stabbed on a regular basis, while living on a steady diet of rotgut, cigarettes, and two-timing dames. They lived their lives in a series of such adventures, endlessly repeated, the consequences of their actions rarely even lasting to the end of the story—never mind the next one. Learning curves? Hah!
But the times change. While even long-running detective series characters such as Nero Wolfe or Sherlock Holmes (who got the whole thing going in the first place) evolved about as rapidly as continents drift, it’s no longer considered a cardinal sin for fictional characters—even private eyes—to acknowledge that scars, psychological, emotional and physical, don’t magically disappear between books.
Everything, you see, has consequences…
A case in point: the long-running Jack Liffey series by John Shannon, in which the personal trials and tribulations of finder-of-lost-children Liffey and his precocious adolescent daughter Maeve have become the bedrock upon which one of the most piercing social documents of Los Angeles in all of literature has been built.
More than a few writers have used the detective novel to get down to, as Van Morrison once put it, “what’s really, really wrong,” but few have been as tenacious and fierce about it as Shannon. Not content with yet another jaunt down the mean streets of the City of Angels, spouting reheated Chandler, Shannon’s long been after the whole enchilada: the crumbling infrastructure, the cultural, intellectual, and moral decay, the man-made and even the natural catastrophes that seem to plague Los Angeles. Things fall apart; the center—if there even is one anymore—doesn’t hold. Consequences.
But somehow Jack endures: be it collapsed lungs, deafness, mudslides, terrorist plots, existential angst, or steel plates in his skull. But each novel has left its mark. In his latest, On the Nickel (Severn House, $28.95), we find him rendered mute and wheelchair-bound, at least temporarily, from incidents related in the previous book, Palos Verde Blue (2009). With Maeve doing most of the legwork unbeknownst to a convalescing Jack, Shannon this time jabs his lance into the soft white underbelly of gentrification of our inner cities and the ruthless economic cleansing of the homeless.
Fans of David Simon’s acclaimed HBO television series The Wire will recognize the MO: the attention to detail across all political, cultural, and ethnical strata, the refusal to trivialize or dehumanize any group or viewpoint, the clamoring for accountability both institutional and personal. Shannon has managed, over 11 novels now, to constantly explore the fissures and cracks of a runaway American dream as exemplified by the shape-shifting metropolis of Los Angeles. Easy reading? Not always—Shannon aims unapologetically high, and a groaner of a coincidence that drops like a crowbar on a concrete floor halfway through On the Nickel will try many a reader’s patience, but ultimately, the author triumphs yet again, concluding his foray into the darkness with a nail-biter of a finale. It’s a potent reminder that actions, be they personal or political, have consequences. Serious food for thought for anyone who dares to look beyond the brain-dead sound bites and hollow talking points that masquerade as journalism these days.
Chickens also come home to roost in the late Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Knopf, $27.95), a current bestseller as fierce as Shannon’s books but even more epic in scope. Of course the star of the series is the odd couple Swedish investigative team of middle-aged business reporter Mikael Blomkvist and troubled antisocial punkette/hacker Lisbeth Salander, but the underlying theme—that unchecked corruption and greed and hate have far-reaching repercussions—is nailed home with savage fury in the final novel in the bestselling Millenium trilogy. Even New York Times columnist Frank Rich has noticed something savvy readers have known for years: that the private eye novel may be one of the last, best places to pry the lid off a society and get a good look at its inner workings. A few months ago, Rich belatedly saluted The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first novel, for its forward-looking take on our current financial meltdown, and how it tapped so well into the growing populist anger towards those who got us into our current mess. Rich sees such classic Larsson/Blomkvist rants as “A bank director who blows millions on foolhardy speculations should not keep his job” and “A managing director who plays shell company games should do time” as eerily prescient, and gleefully noted that the villains in the novels, “whether they literally commit murder or not… are bankers and industrialists.”
Nor does Rich—or Larsson—show much sympathy for those apologists and snake oil salesmen in the media who “regurgitate the statements issued by C.E.O.’s and stockmarket speculators.”
But in Hornet’s Nest it’s not just the moneymen and their lackeys in the media and government who wear the black hats, but also the alleged good guys in Sweden’s intelligence community. Members of “the Section,” a small, secretive sub-agency, are so intent on protecting themselves from discovery—and so in love with their sacred cause—that they’re willing to ignore the laws of the very nation and way of life they purport to defend.
That sort of perverted self-righteousness and air-fouling hypocrisy is likely to waft up from all sides of the currently fractured and increasingly dumbed-down political spectrum, but back in the thinking world, people are simply fed up with watching the suits and their mouthpieces win—and with people who think the rules of the land, up to and including its constitution, can be easily tossed on the trash heap if it suits their purposes. And a media who have reduced serious political discourse to the intellectual level of professional wrestling.
Lisbeth, get out your tattoo needles...
I don’t know. Getting angry feels good, but getting smart is better—and in the long run, it’s vital to a civilized society. Maybe we all should turn off the 24-hour “news” stations and read a lot more private eye fiction.
This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #117.
Is there any reader who doesn’t know the name James Patterson?
Patterson’s millions of mega-best sellers, many of which are written with a co-author, are published at an astounding rate.
While Patterson is best known for his thrillers, especially his Alex Cross novels, he has written several children’s books and, as a result, has done much for literacy among young readers.
Patterson is teaming up with two-time Miami Heat champion and New York Times bestselling author Dwyane Wade (A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger than Basketball) for a national online webcast for kids across the country. The project is called One on One: Fundamentals with Dwyane Wade and James Patterson.
One on One will highlight the importance of reading for success in life.
It will air at 1 p.m. April 25, 2013, (EST).
The One on One webcast will be available free of charge to schools, libraries, and for home viewing. Visit www.JamesPattersonEvents.com, where viewers can sign up in advance to watch. Children across the country can submit questions to their favorite author and their favorite NBA superstar in advance via social media. Again, details here.
The webcast will also include special messages from other NBA All-Stars encouraging kids to read.
To gear up for the webcast, the two authors have other events lined up.
On March 21, Patterson and Wade are scheduled to talk about reading with students at Ponce De Leon Middle School in Coral Gables, Florida. Their moderator will be moderated by six-time Emmy Award winner and Miami Heat courtside reporter Jason Jackson.
While Patterson and his publisher, Hachette Book Group, will make a major donation of books in conjunction with the webcast, there is a chance even more kids will receive a book. On March 27, Wade and the Heat are scheduled to play against the Bulls in Chicago. For every point Wade scores, Hachette Book Group will donate 1,000 copies of Patterson books to young readers in the Miami-Dade school system.
While I always root for the Heat—hey, I live in Florida—I will be rooting for the team, and especially Wade, even more.
In the press release, Patterson offered this very timely quote:
Patterson said, “Getting our kids reading is a matter of life and death; this is not about grades or what college these kids might be going to. This is about saving kids’ lives, and if we don’t get our kids reading now, many of them aren’t going to make it. We have to get that light to go off in their heads at an early age — before or around the middle school years. I’m so glad I’m partnering with someone like Dwyane, who gets it — that getting our kids reading is preparing them to face the world.”
According to a press release, One on One is in collaboration with NBA Cares, the Wade’s World Foundation, ReadKiddoRead and Hachette Book Group.
What do you get when you put together Ridley Pearson, Jacqueline Winspear, Patricia Smiley, James O. Born, Paul Levine, (left) and Cornelia Reed?
You get a highly entertaining blog called NakedAuthors.com in which each author had his or her own day to post and used that forum to write some unexpected musings.
Born once wrote about Susan Boyle, when she was first on Britain’s Got Talent. Winspear tackled body scanners at the airport. Reed wrote about beauty tips from Doris Day that lead to her discussion about "odd little lines and giblets from books" she'd read.
The blog's subtitle—The Naked Truth About Literature & Life—made a lot of sense.
These naked authors had fun with the blog and seemed to love going off in tangents. And while at first it seemed odd to have authors who write such different books blogging together, it made sense in the context of the genre. After all, most mystery writers love diversity in stories and authors.
But in March 2010, the naked authors called it quits.
Too much to do—books to write, personal duties to take care of, and, of course, that general excuse, life itself.
But now they are back.
Three years after calling a halt, the naked authors are getting the band back together and hitting the road. Or, just writing
And I, for one, am glad to see this blog again.
A weekly whodunit so lighthearted it nearly floated away.
Gene Barry as Amos Burke on Burke's Law (ABC, 1963-1966). Photo courtesy ABC.
In today’s TV world a crime show about a millionaire playboy LAPD homicide detective who shuttles around town in a chauffered Rolls-Royce, all the while dribbling out pithy bon mots, would be hooted off the airwaves. But more than 40 years ago there was Burke’s Law, a weekly whodunit so lighthearted it nearly floated away. Whimsical as it was, though, Burke’s Law set many of the conventions for mystery series that would follow.
Premiering on ABC in September 1963, Burke’s Law was the first notable success for super-producer Aaron Spelling. More importantly, it pioneered the concept of the special-guest-star mystery show, in which a roster of A (and sometimes B) list celebrities would pop up in cameos, usually as suspects. Later series including Columbo, Ellery Queen, and Murder, She Wrote would all gain traction through this technique, as would the subsequent Spelling hits The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.
The Burke of Burke’s Law was Captain Amos Burke, played by Gene Barry, an actor often described as television’s Cary Grant. Barry had filled out his Grant application a few years earlier with the Western series Bat Masterson, but it was his debonair, witty performance as Amos Burke that really cemented his image. There was more of Hugh Hefner than Joe Friday in this L.A. copper, as announced by the breathy female voice that purred, “It’s Burke’s Lawwww,” at the top of each show. The Law of Burke’s Law was the steady string of pertinent aphorisms Burke would toss off extemporaneously as the rules under which he operated.
During working hours Capt. Burke seemed to have little time or patience for going into the office, preferring instead to stay in his luxurious 19-room mansion and getting called out to cases by his detective sidekicks, the young and overachieving Tim Tilson (played by Gary Conway), and the veteran flatfoot Les Hart (Regis Toomey, who had played so many policemen in his long career that he should have filed for a departmental pension). The fourth member of Burke’s team was his chauffeur Henry, played by Leon Lontoc, with the added help on occasion of the efficient and (naturally) gorgeous Sgt. Ames, played by Eileen O’Neill.
Each episode of Burke’s Law, at least for its first two seasons, bore the title “Who Killed” followed by the victim’s name or description. This was a carry-over from Amos Burke’s first appearance on television in a 1961 episode of The Dick Powell Show titled “Who Killed Julie Greer?” Powell himself played a slightly less suave version of Burke alongside a stellar cast that included Edgar Bergen (sans Charlie McCarthy), Nick Adams, Lloyd Bridges, Mickey Rooney, Carolyn Jones (as the victim) and Ronald Reagan. Burke’s assistants were Detectives Phil Winslow and Joe Nolan, played by a pre-Disney Dean Jones and Ed Platt, who would later become the Chief of Get Smart. Leon Lontoc was the only actor to make the transition to the series.
From a procedural standpoint, Burke’s Law depicted the workings of a major city police department about as accurately as Batman. In fact, the show might be considered the anti-Dragnet: The stories were not only false, many of them bordered on the absurd. One of the hallmarks of the series was that the characters played by the guest stars, ranging from rarely televised movie icons like Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Swanson, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke to comedians such as Don Rickles, Paul Lynde, and Buster Keaton, all ran toward the eccentric. In fact, some ran right past the eccentric and dove straight into the downright batty. In this aspect the show was closer to Britain’s The Avengers, which also presented a decidedly mad, upper-class world spinning around its sane protagonists, than anything found on American television at the time. It also offered Barry the chance to act as perpetually bemused straight man to the parade of wackos. (Just try, for example, to imagine how Jack Webb and Harry Morgan would have handled the sight of demented gardener Burgess Meredith gleefully dropping a leg of lamb into the maw of an agitated carnivorous plant, which he did in the season one episode “Who Killed Jason Shaw?”)
The epitome of bizarre spoofery may have been the 1964 episode “Who Killed Supersleuth?” which featured a laundry list of classic detectives, Carl Reiner as the deerstalker-donning Inspector House (get it?), Ed Begley as Belgian detective Bascule Doirot, Thomas Gomez as portly Caligula Fox, and J. Carrol Naish laboring under outrageous Asian makeup as Mr. Toto, all struggling to solve a murder. One can only wonder if Neil Simon tuned in that night to see Reiner, his former Your Show of Shows compatriot, and filed the idea away for his 1976 feature Murder by Death.
Not exactly camp, Burke’s Law might best be described as smirk, yet somehow it remained sophisticated and oddly cool in a wink-wink sort of way. The show also spawned another tongue-in-cheek crime series, Honey West, which featured Anne Francis as TV’s first female PI. Honey (who was based on a novel series by G.G. Fickling) made her first appearance as a character in a 1965 episode of the show.
By then, though, Burke’s Law itself had been revamped to cash in on the red-hot spy craze. Now titled Amos Burke, Secret Agent, the show depicted Burke as working for a government department headed by a shadowy figure called The Man. Tilson, Hart, Ames, and Henry were all left behind, as was the uniform “Who Killed...?” episode titles. The producers might have been hoping for an American version of the British series Secret Agent (aka Danger Man), which had debuted stateside in April 1965, but what they got was a mishmash of ideas that ran last in the lighter-side-of-spying- Olympics, behind The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, and even The Wild, Wild West. The show should have been re-titled “Who Killed Burke’s Law?” since everything that had made the exploits of Capt. Burke so distinctive was gone, except for the Rolls. Amos Burke, Secret Agent survived only one more season.
Burke’s Law may have been gone but it was not forgotten. In 1994, 31 years after it premiered, the show was revived under its original title. Amos Burke was once more with the LAPD, and Gene Barry was back in the role (though he was now considerably past retirement age), and his sidekick was his detective son, Peter, played by Peter Barton. Unfortunately, the attempt to recapture the fondly remembered magic failed and the heavy-handed revival limped through only one season on CBS.
When seen these days, Burke’s Law can be viewed both as a palimpsest from which subsequent mystery programs were struck and an icon of an underappreciated era of American television when imagination and offbeat, bizarre humor were given equal time with the more conventional likes of Lawrence Welk and The Virginian. It is a time capsule to be sure, but also a window into a period when American television was arresting, maybe even a little surreal, but always drop-dead entertaining.
Middle right: Gypsy Rose Lee as Miss Bumpsy Cathcart and Gene Barry as Amos Burke in “Who Killed Vaudeville” (1964). Bottom left: Anne Francis as Honey West on “Who Killed the Jackpot?” (1965). Burke’s Law: Season One, Vols. 1 & 2 (VCI Entertainment, $29.99 each) is available on DVD.
This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #108.