Is Sherlock Holmes Public Domain?

Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget

Techdirt sums up a recent request for courts to declare that Sherlock Holmes is now public domain. Of course, the estate of writer Arthur Conan Doyle wants to claim otherwise, because they’re still making licensing fees from the character. And that’s what drives restrictive intellectual property — there’s nothing easier than letting money roll in from other people’s creativity, over 120 years since the character was first created.

What drove this particular challenge was an upcoming book by Leslie S. Klinger and Laurie R. King. The Conan Doyle estate basically threatened blackmail, demanding their license fee or they’d have the book banned from major sales outlets (who understandably don’t want to get in the middle of legal actions). Klinger (who also wrote the notes for The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes) then filed for declaratory judgment in order to convince his publisher to go forward with the project.

The estate bases its claim on a small number of the original Holmes stories being under copyright until 2022. However, none of the elements we think of as key to the Sherlock Holmes character or mythos were established in those late stories.

Note that Arthur Conan Doyle himself, when asked by actor and playwright William Gillette if Gillette might change the character’s story by marrying him off, responded, “You may marry him, or murder or do what you like with him.” So he wasn’t nearly so precious about his own creation as his heirs are.


3 Responses to “Is Sherlock Holmes Public Domain?”

  1. Suzene Says:

    “Note that Arthur Conan Doyle himself, when asked by actor and playwright William Gillette if Gillette might change the character’s story by marrying him off, responded, ‘You may marry him, or murder or do what you like with him.’ So he wasn’t nearly so precious about his own creation as his heirs are.”

    Or some of said creations fans for that matter.

  2. May 2013 Previews » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] that it’s moving to print. It’s a good read, an African-American take on the Sherlock Holmes setup. Jon Watson is an overworked intern at an emergency clinic in Harlem. Holmes had dreds, a fedora, […]

  3. Sherlock Holmes Officially Public Domain » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Back to Holmes. As commenters point out, copyright is intended to be of limited time span in order to benefit society as well as the artist. But when money flows to heirs, who didn’t actually create anything, they tend to get greedy. They should have known better than to take on a lawyer. […]




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