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Aug. 4 — The estate of author Arthur Conan Doyle was engaging in a “form of extortion” when it demanded a small license fee from a writer of new Sherlock Holmes stories, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled Aug. 4.
Granting writer Leslie S. Klinger $31,000 in attorneys' fees incurred for litigating an appeal, the court expressed concern that leaving the writer with a loss would continue to give the estate the incentive to assert flimsy copyright claims against those who do not wish to spend money on litigation.
“Unless Klinger is awarded his attorneys' fees, he will have lost money … in winning an appeal in which the defendant's only defense bordered on the frivolous: a Pyrrhic victory if ever there was one,” the court said.
The ruling comes almost two months after the appeals court affirmed summary judgment against the estate.
In that decision, the Seventh Circuit ruled that the fact that a few of the original Sherlock Holmes stories were still under the protection of copyright law did not prevent Klinger from using material from the stories that had fallen into the public domain.
In ruling on the fees, the court reiterated its prior ruling on the merits that “There is no ground known to American law for extending copyright protection beyond the limits fixed by Congress. The estate's appeal bordered on the quixotic.”
The ruling was for the estate's own good, the court said, because it would deter it from “playing with fire.” The court noted that in threatening Klinger with legal action, the estate had said that it would seek to have distributors such as Amazon interfere with distribution of Klinger's book.
Additionally, according to the court, “it was enlisting those sellers in a boycott of a competitor of the estate, and boycotts of competitors violate the antitrust laws.”
The court noted that Klinger was separately seeking $40,000 for his legal expenses before the district court.
The court's opinion was authored by Judge Richard A. Posner and joined by Judge Joel M. Flaum and Judge Daniel A. Manion. Klinger was represented by Polsinelli P.C., Chicago. The estate was represented by Zieske Law, Woodstock, Ill.
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