It’s mentioned on the project landing page for this that we’re using the Stephen Fry narration of the Sherlock Holmes canon, available from Audible.
Notice at the bottom: “The Definitive Audio Collection.” Not so much, as it turns out.
The copyrights for Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories expired in 1980 in Canada and in 2000 in the United Kingdom. In the United States, the only Sherlock Holmes works by Doyle still protected by copyrights are ten of the twelve short stories from The Case Book. The first two stories (“The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone”, 1921, and “The Problem of Thor Bridge”, 1922) are already in the public domain since they were published before 1923. The other stories will enter the public domain on 1 January of the year after the 95th anniversary of each story’s publication: 1 January 2019 for “The Adventure of the Creeping Man”; 1 January 2020 for “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire”, “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs” and “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client”; 1 January 2022 for “The Adventure of the Three Gables”, “The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier”, “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane” and “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman”; 1 January 2023 for “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger” and “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place”.
The Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. claim they hold the American copyrights. The company has a web page setting out its views about other claimants to those rights. For background, see a note by Peter Blau, January 2011.
As 2013 came to an end, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois handed down a ruling about copyright protection, not for the stories themselves, but for the characters of Holmes and Watson. The defendant in the case was Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. The plaintiff was well-known Sherlockian editor, and Los Angeles entertainment lawyer, Leslie S. Klinger. In the case of Klinger vs. Conan Doyle Estate Ltd., the court ruled that the Holmes and Watson characters as described in the “story elements” that stem from most of the stories—those published before 1923—are in the public domain.
Basically, this says that Audible / Amazon customers in the United States get hosed for a few years to come. The 12 Case-Book stories were collected and published as a collection in 1927.
I should have known something was up when “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box” was in the right place, marking this as a British edition, which at the time overjoyed me to no end. It’s the little things that make me happy, you know? Audible’s site tells me the contents of my American version of this British edition, and the Case-Book is indeed missing. It’s like I can feel Holmes chastising me directly: “You see, but you do not observe.” Well, no, I didn’t even see. I took it for granted that all the stories would be there.
What this means is that BT and I are going to proceed as normal on this project. She will continue with the Stephen Fry narration because she can. I have the Simon Vance narration of Sherlock Holmes: The Heirloom Collection, which does feature all of the stories.
It’s also an American edition, so all the copyrights are paid to the estate, and “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box” is in the wrong spot, just as it is in my trusty Barnes and Noble leatherbound collection. *shakes fist*
I called into Audible to verify these things. Their customer service was superb, per always. They could teach their Amazonian parent company a great deal on this front, which begins by being helpful and actually seeking answers to questions and responding to me like I know what I’m talking about. Audible is fantastic for this sort of thing. They were unable to rectify this because, well, the law is the law. While ACD would never have done this to his American audience, his estate is a little more hard-nosed as the copyright situation dwindles. They want their money. But Audible was supremely professional about the entire situation, and they gave me two more credits to help appease my frustration. The intent was that I would use one of those credits to buy The Complete Sherlock Holmes narrated by Charlton Griffin that they have available, seeing as how that’s not in my library. I’m sure that’s an awesome recording. Griffin’s a solid narrator. But as I already have Vance, who is every bit Fry’s equal, I’m good to go. I’m just frustrated by international copyright.
[See, this kind of nonsense is why pirates will continue to win. Just saying. You think this is frustrating, take a look at the BS surrounding Star Trek: Discovery and how CBS is distributing that worldwide. It’s enough to make a fangirl weep. But that’s another story.]
Here’s the other irony. The rep put this other recording in my wish list. Apparently Audible doesn’t understand that for power users, Mount TBR is a thing. The architecture of their site only supports 49 pages of wish list. I apparently have 51 pages of wish list. So I had to explain to the rep how power readers in any medium have to-be read lists and wish lists that far exceed their actual libraries, which are in turn also huge and unwieldy. He confirmed that I do indeed have an excess of titles in my actual library. The idea is that I’m supposed to whittle down that wish list. And I do. I have 1200+ titles in my Audible library that I’ve purchased, so it’s not like they can tell me I’m not a loyal buyer. But here’s the funny part. Audible sends me emails promoting all the cool stuff coming up. They promote it on their site. They cross-reference books with other books, linking you to similar titles, same author, same narrator, etc. I do random searches on my own because some of you book bloggers out there are doing what you do, and it’s clearly working. And that’s just the stuff that’s available now. I’m constantly combing the pre-orders list for upcoming goodies I don’t want to miss. You see how it works. Hell, you people know how it works as well as I do because you are my people. But the techs at Audible who program the site apparently don’t get it because in their off hours they’re playing video games instead of reading… so the very nature of advertising has broken their wish list function, which prevents people from buying stuff on that wish list. True story, as explained to me by the unfortunate rep who was trying hard not to laugh. Unlike with Audible’s parent company, Amazon, his notes and my comments will actually be heard at the higher level, and this will be fixed. Apparently a lot of power users have been complaining about this. I take that to mean Audible is going to fix it in short order because they are rather awesome about such things. Seriously, whoever puts a limit on Mount TBR is just asking for compound levels of stupid that will fold back on itself and implode.
Sherlock Holmes would not tolerate this. But he’d have anticipated it. Alas, I am not up to his level. All I can say is that while I’m waiting on them to fix the wish list, I have plenty of unread titles in my library. Mount TBR is an entire mountain range, not a single peak.