Reynolds at that time either owned or controlled the copyright in Conan Doyle's famous character Sherlock Holmes. The precise nature of Reynolds's involvement is obscure; there was eventually a court case about it. The online account of this case seems to have been recently removed, but the Google cached version may still be available when you read this. Should you care enough to bother.
Anyway, in the 1970s Reynolds seems to have exploited the Conan Doyle copyright to the full. Scarcely a week went by without a Sherlock Holmes meets Dracula (or some such) film or novel coming out.
When I knew Reynolds he was preparing to film a series of 26 half-hour episodes featuring the great detective. I adapted one of the Holmes stories -- The Speckled Band -- and wrote one other original script. The series was then filmed in Warsaw, presumably because costs were lower there.
The point about this is that no one in those days seems to have questioned the claim that use of the character Sherlock Holmes was protected by the Conan Doyle copyright. The copyright was in fact about to expire, fifty years after Conan Doyle's death, and quite a few people were reportedly preparing to make use of the character for free, after the expiry. (The copyright was later revived when English law extended the copyright period to seventy years after an author's death.) But, I repeat, no one doubted that he who controlled the Conan Doyle copyright could also say yea or nay to the further use of the character Sherlock Holmes.
Well, if you're a regular reader of this blog you will know that at least one UK expert on copyright takes a different view -- at any rate under English law. I referred only the other day to an article by Nicola Solomon, which is available online. And Ms Solomon clearly takes the view that anyone can use a character for a sequel, without permission and without paying a fee, subject to a few simple precautions.
Ms Solomon's first sentence seems pretty unambiguous to me: 'One might assume that it would be an infringement of copyright to use characters and style developed by another person. Not so; copyright protects the words and form in which ideas are expressed, not the ideas or characters themselves.'
What I want to do today is draw attention to a case where this question of the right to use characters in a sequel or spinoff work may turn out to be of considerable significance. And it may also turn out to be a bonanza for the lawyers of this sceptred isle.
Booktrade info provides a link to a news item on a James Bond web site, known as Commanderbond.net. This reveals that there is to be a trilogy of books, published by the ancient firm of John Murray, no less, entitled The Moneypenny Diaries. These will be, or purport to be, the diaries of that very same Miss Moneypenny who served as secretary to James Bond's boss in the original novels by Ian Fleming. The first book is due out on 10 October.
There is no mention yet, I notice, of publication in the US, or anywhere else, where the laws will probably be different. Though whether, in these days of online booksellers, that makes any practical difference at all, I wouldn't care to say. You can already find the UK publication listed on the German Amazon site.
Commanderbond.net claims that, when they first heard about these books, they approached Ian Fleming Publications (IFP), the company which controls the literary rights in Fleming's work, for further details. And, when asked about the books, IFP denied all knowledge; they said, however, that they would look into the matter.
Commanderbond.net suggests that this denial might, perhaps, have been IFP 'playing coy' -- but suggests no reason why they should do so. And The Moneypenny Diaries, they add, could be the first in a series of 'new promised projects from the heirs of Ian Fleming.'
In search of clarification, I turned to the official IFP web site, on which, so far as I can discover, there is no mention of Ms Moneypenny or her trilogistic diaries.
Under the FAQ page on the IFP site there is, however, a warm-hearted and encouraging statement, as follows:
How can I get my James Bond novel published?So, the question is this. Have John Murray and their author, Kate Westbrook, come to an agreement with the owners of the Fleming copyright or have they not? And, if they have not, will IFP test the matter in the English courts?
James Bond novels and short stories may only be published under licence from Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. We do not accept unsolicited material and it is company policy to return any such material unread.
This question is one of considerable importance. There are a number of UK companies which make millions of pounds a year from exploiting the copyrights of famous authors: Chorion being perhaps the most famous. Such companies are not going to be happy if someone sets a precedent proving that, under English law, anyone can use their precious characters in a sequel or spinoff without paying them a share of the proceeds.
Well, it shouldn't be long before we know the answer. If The Moneypenny Diaries is part of the official IFP package, IFP will doubtless be plugging the trilogy on their web site, on or before publication date.
And if the opposite is true, and a court case ensues, that can't possibly take longer to resolve than, oh, two or three years.