In a decision that can only mean we’re going to get even more Baker Street-themed fan fiction, a federal judge has ruled that Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and related characters and stories are now in the public domain. This means that anyone is free to re-interpret most of the original works without paying a licensing fee to author Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate.
The case involved Sherlock Holmes scholar Leslie S. Klinger, who had attempted to publish a collection of new Holmes short stories called “In the Company of Sherlock Holmes,” but was set back by the $5000 licensing fee claimed by the estate. The estate had argued that even though all literary works from before 1923 are considered by U.S. law to be in the public domain, all of Conan Doyle’s works should be protected by copyright law since a chunk of them were produced after 1923.
U.S. District Court judge Ruben Castillo ruled that Conan Doyle’s pre-1923 works — including four novels and 46 short stories — are not covered by copyright law. As for the ten short stories published after 1923, any elements based on those writings must still be covered and can’t be used without paying the estate.
Read: New Alfred Hitchcock obsessed channel ShockMasters will stream non-stop horror and suspense
According to the Wall Street Journal, attorney Benjamin Allison said that the Conan Doyle Estate is considering an appeal. “To create a new film or other work under the current ruling you’d have to separate character traits in the protected 10 stories from all the character development in the pre 1923 works,” he said.
Though the expanded world of Holmes and Watson is something to (maybe) look forward to, more imminent is the return of the Internet-friendly BBC portrayal of the crime-solving duo, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and sometime-Hobbit Martin Freeman.
Unfortunately for his more besotted fans, the ruling does not place Cumberbatch himself in the public domain.
In anticipation of the show’s U.S. return on Jan. 19, the network released this 7-minute mini-episode, which shows some of what Sherlock has been doing since faking his own death (apparently being party to extended legal battles did not merit a mention).
Watch classic mysteries and suspense on the new channel devoted to Alfred Hitchcock’s work and influence, ShockMasters, via FilmOn:
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