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Sherlock is Free: Court Ruling

From Entertainment Weekly

Yesterday evening, illustrious Holmesian Les Klinger ignited the Sherlockian world with some truly cheering holiday news: After months of legal wrangling, a United States District Court freed Sherlock. To be more specific, the court ruled that the literary output of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle prior to 1923 is fully in the public domain.

What does this mean? For some time, the Conan Doyle Estate has contended that all of Doyle’s works containing Holmes should be considered under copyright in the United States, because they all comprise part of the character, and the last story about him was not published until 1927. Practically speaking, this position has been used to justify attempts to gain monetary value from media that uses Holmes and other Doyle characters and plots.

The opposite contention of Klinger and others was a basic one: Literary copyright is based on time elapsed. Once a number of years has passed, works (along with their characters and plots) go into the public domain (free for use by all), like it or not.

The court’s ruling upholds Klinger’s position and affirms that the only works still in copyright are those published after 1923 (which is only the Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes). Both sides agree that using characters and situations specifically (and only) from those stories requires copyright permission (for a few more short years).

The estate has 30 days to appeal the decision, but the current ruling of the court is unequivocally clear. Sherlock is free, and as his creator famously said, writers and artists may go on to “marry him, murder him, or do anything you like to him” without fear of legal or financial peril.

To read more about the case and check out the full text of the legal decision, visit  Free Sherlock

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