The plot has thickened for Mr. Holmes, the upcoming film based on the later life of the world’s most famous detective, and not in a good way. The estate of Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle is suing Miramax, Roadside Attractions, director Bill Condon, author Mitch Cullin, and Penguin Random House for copyright infringement.
The film, starring Ian McKellen in the titular role, is focused on Sherlock Holmes’ later years as a retired man contemplating his life while getting involved in an unsolved mystery.
In the legal documents obtained by EW, it is stated that the first 50 of Conan Doyle’s short stories and novels are in the public domain, but the last 10 are still protected by copyright in the United States. Those stories are the ones that “develop the details of Holmes’ fictional retirement and change and develop the character of Holmes himself.” That’s a problem because the estate is asserting that Cullin’s book A Slight Trick of the Mind, which the film Mr. Holmes is based on, is based on these copyrighted stories.
The Conan Doyle estate claims in the lawsuit that Cullin took elements of setting, plot and characters from these stories in which Holmes is “in his later years, living in the countryside instead of London” and “comes to love nature and dedicates himself to studying it.” They also claim Cullin used copyrighted stories that “give Holmes in his later years a personal warmth and the capacity to express love for the first time.”
According to the lawsuit, Cullin “copied entire passages” from The Adventures of the Blanched Soldier,” taking 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.”
The documents claim that Penguin Random House published Cullin’s novel with “full knowledge of the 10 copyrighted stories of Conan Doyle.” The estate also says that the Miramax, Roadside Attractions and the other defendants were never authorized to copy from the protected works and “willfully infringed the copyrights in the 10 stories by reproducing highly original fictional expression from these copyrighted works in A Slight Trick of the Mind.”
Cullin served as screenwriter adapting his book for the film, which is set for release July 17. The estate is seeking a trial by jury, damages, and profits from the film as well as Cullin’s book.