Giving It Away at The Strand: A Short Story of Rights and Relationships in Intellectual Property


In early 1916, Arthur Conan Doyle (the versatile and productive Victorian/Edwardian-era writer remembered nowadays mostly for his Sherlock Holmes stories), sent a letter and a package to Herbert Greenhough Smith, his longtime editor at The Strand Magazine. Could it be that Conan Doyle was having a little fun, making a slightly grim legal joke about his demand that the Strand return his old manuscripts? He may well have known enough about intellectual property law, or about the history of publishing, to be aware that some of the most important ownership-of-manuscript lawsuits had involved letters and diaries. And in “The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez” (the story in the package Conan Doyle had sent) the killing of an innocent person – a character who might have been based on Herbert Greenhough Smith – happens during a righteous attempt by another person to recover wrongfully withheld letters and a diary.