Sherlock Holmes Now Belongs to Everyone
I first reported on this at the end of last year, but now that the Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate, there aren’t any more possible take-backs. Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Mrs. Hudson, and the rest are in the public domain. Since the Supremes passed on review, this previous finding holds:
“We cannot find any basis in statute or case law for extending a copyright beyond its expiration,” [a judge] wrote in the Seventh Circuit’s June decision. “When a story falls into the public domain, story elements — including characters covered by the expired copyright — become fair game for follow-on authors…”
Copyright hadn’t previously prevented comic parodies, like Sherlock Bones, or more straightforward reinventions, like the urban Watson and Holmes. But now no one needs to worry about using a character more than a hundred years old with full name and personality … so long as you don’t use anything first introduced in a story from after 1923. Those don’t become public domain for another eight years (2022).
Let’s hope more people push back on the continued extension of copyright. After all, it’s only 15 years from that 1923 date and the 1938 introduction of Superman, and I think it’s well past time he entered the public domain. Never happen, though, so long as Warner has more money for the lawyers and lobbyists.