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THE DAILY TELEGRAPH of London, August 18, 1959, had the definitive word on Sherlock Holmes, his chronicler Dr. John H. Watson, Watson’s literary agent Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Kremlin: The newspaper reported, “Sherlock Holmes suffered one of his rare defeats here to-day… in the fight for authors’ compensation from Soviet publishers.” This, as shared in The Sherlock Holmes Scrapbook, as edited by Peter Haining, with a foreward by Peter Cushing, Clarkson N. Potter, 1974.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised to see lawyers clustering around the world’s first and greatest consulting detective.
The Daily Telegraph’s Report: “The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation upheld a lower court’s ruling that foreign writers were not entitled to royalties or other compensation from the sale of their works in the Soviet Union…. The decision left the matter of authors’ rights where it has been since the Communists seized power in 1917.”
There’s irony in what was ostensibly a “workers’ revolt” jagging these particular workers.
The Doyle Estate Argument. The Daily Telegraph reported, “Sir Arthur’s son, Adrian, and his counsel, Prof. Harold J. Berman, of Harvard University, thought they had found a legally plausible and potentially palatable way of obtaining compensation.”
The newspaper continued, “They conceded that they had no claim for royalties, but argued that, under a clause of the Russian Republic’s civic code forbidding ‘unjust enrichment,’ they were entitled to a share of the profits from sale of Sir Arthur’s books.”
The Soviet Court’s Response: The suit was tossed out by a Moscow City Court. I suspect it came down to who was receiving the enrichment.
However, a description of the proceedings makes for entertaining reading: “The appeal,” The Daily Telegraph said, “was heard in a small room in the Supreme Court building a few blocks from the Kremlin. The room was simply furnished.”
The newspaper continued, “In high-backed chairs, decorated with hammers and sickles, sat three judges. Prof. Berman said he had been unable to get Soviet legal assistance and presented his case in Russian with only occasional assistance from an interpreter.”
To the newspaper’s view, the proceedings went without drama: “Anna D. Nescheglotova, an Assistant Procurator, took only five minutes to urge rejection of the plea. Besides Western correspondents, there were only five interested Soviet citizens present, including lawyers. They listened attentively to Prof. Berman’s argument, but left before the decision, confident of the outcome.”
The case having been rejected, it never even came to trial.
The Good News. Because it never came to trial, there was no fee as normally levied against losers in Soviet civil cases—six percent of the sum claimed.
The Doyle Estate had claimed a sum of 2,033,347 rubles (about £180,000/$504,000 at the time).
Gee, had matters come to trial and resulted in the (inevitable) Doyle Estate loss, the estate would have owed the Soviets 122,001 rubles (about £10,800/$33,240 in 1959; around $271,500 in today’s cash).
In retrospect, thanks to Assistant Procurator Nescheglotova, the literary agent’s estate saved big. And, thanks, Peter Haining, for bringing this most interesting matter to our attention. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020