After a judge deemed the character Sherlock Holmes was public domain in 2013, the question of using iconic fictional figures once more became a subject of discussion for filmmakers.
According to the court, and the established rule of law, public domain characters and other materials do not fall under the umbrella of intellectual property. There are no copyright, trademark, or patent loopholes that can derail your film project.
The public owns these materials, belonging to no single individual, writer, artist, filmmaker, or producer. The use of public domain can be used without obtaining legal permission.
At least, that’s how the process works on paper.
The truth is, there is still the threat of a film lawsuit when using open source material. There are deeper intricacies involved—even with the use of public domain characters, locations, and items.
Even with the freedom of public domain, there is an ever-present need for film clearance.
Your E & O insurance carrier requires that you follow standard film clearance procedures. Without this prophylactic measure, filmmakers and television producers risk exposure in spite of the use of public domain characters.
Even after the iconic character Sherlock Holmes became available to filmmakers for liberal use in their projects, lawsuits continued to sprout up. Though several novels opened up for free use, a few books remained under copyright protection.
The later Sherlock Holmes books, which chronicle the sunset years and retirement of England’s top gumshoe, were used as inspiration for the film Mr. Holmes.
According to an article from Variety magazine:
The Conan Doyle estate sued Miramax, Roadside Attractions, and director Bill Condon over the movie, which starred Ian McKellen in the title role.
The lawsuit also named writer Mitch Cullin and Penguin Random House, publisher of Cullin’s “A Slight Trick of the Mind” — a new Holmes tale on which the movie “Mr. Holmes” is based.
With all these names—production houses, writers, and directors—listed on the court roll call, it’s clear that not even open source material can protect filmmakers in the event of a lawsuit.
Though the plaintiffs and defendants reached a settlement agreement, this case study sheds light on the importance of activng proactively in filmmaking and television production.
How to take proactive defensive measures.
By utilizing comprehensive film clearance resources provided by entertainment attorneys and research analysts who specialize in television and the big screen, you protect your livelihood from unnecessary legal entanglements.
If you think you’ve used only public domain material in your project, look to the Sherlock Holmes lawsuit as a cautionary tale.
Our expert research and legal team will provide guidance that helps prevent legal issues from arising and will satisfy your E & O insurance carrier and distributors.
Before a lawsuit drains your budget and potentially kills your entire film or television project, we highly advise taking the proactive approach. Mitigating legal issues before they become problems saves you time and money.
Not only that, but film clearance protects your future projects as well. In order to secure a bright future as a creator of screen content, take the first step and lock in film clearance.