Sherlock Holmes: Popular Public Domain Detective

Illinois Federal Judge Ruben Castillo declared the prominent detective Sherlock Holmes, who first appeared in publication in 1887, part of the public domain. The lawsuit which was initiated by author and Sherlock Holmes expert, Leslie Klinger, after allegedly being threatened by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was to determine whether the character could still enjoy copyright protection. Klinger sought a declaratory judgment asserting that most of the stories and characters in the Holmes collection now belonged in the public domain. The Doyle estate defended the copyright protection, asserting that the Holmes’ character was developed over time thus it was impossible to sever the detective’s personality into protected and unprotected segments, however the estate was unable to prevail using this argument. Since the current U.S. copyright term is the earliest of either the life of the author plus 70 years or 95 ears after publication, Judge Castillo discussed some elements in post-1923 Holmes stories that remain protected at this time, but nonetheless the pre-1923 stories have become fair game. 

Do you think the outcome of this case will change the nature of the Holmes canon?


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