Ever wonder why there are so many Sherlock Holmes movies, television shows and books? As affirmed by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, most of Sherlock Holmes stories are in the public domain. Just this past week, the Supreme Court refused to hear the estate of Sir Author Conan Doyle’s attempt to appeal this ruling. Therefore, the case is solved. Sherlock is free from any copyright binds so feel free to exploit.
Beginning in the 1880’s, Doyle authored and published four novels and 56 short stories about the exploits of detective Sherlock Holmes and his trusted sidekick, Dr. John H. Watson. When Leslie Klinger, an author and co-editor of a series of short stories of new and original stories in the Sherlock Holmes universe, sought to publish his book. The estate of Doyle soon came a’ knocking and stated Klinger must be licensed to use the characters and their likeness. For their first book, Klinger consented to a licensing agreement with Doyle’s estate but when it was time for the second book to come out, Klinger and his book company were not as welcoming to the copyright infringement threats of the Doyle estate. Therefore, Klinger commenced this action seeking a ruling from the court that the copyright term of Doyle’s creations had expired and that the characters are now in the public domain.
The estate of Doyle tried to claim that certain character traits and elements from those post-1923 stories are protected as authors need time to develop their characters. The court held that it could not find any basis in statute or case law for extending the copyright beyond its expiration and all story elements including characters are in the public domain. The Appeals Court affirmed the District Courts ruling and days ago the Supreme Court refused to grant the Doyle Estate’s requested for another appeal.
So what does this mean exactly? Any person is free to make a Sherlock Holmes novel, comic, or even movie without permission from the Doyle estate as long as those stories do not stray into elements from the 10 stories post-1923. So we could be in for a whole new batch of Holmes tales in the near feature.