Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit US Court of Appeals authored an opinion on Monday, June 16, 2014, ruling that the brilliant detective “Sherlock Holmes” is mostly public domain.
Back in December 2013, Chief Judge Ruben Castillo of the District Court for the Northern Division of Illinois, ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Leslie Klinger. Mr. Klinger, co-editor of “A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon,” brought the suit after being threatened by the Conan Doyle estate when it learned he was attempting to publish a second compendium of Sherlock Holmes inspired stories without first obtaining a copyright license. Klinger argued that the first 50 stories, published prior to 1923, were no longer copyrighted material. Judge Castillo agreed, and Judge Posner affirmed.
The Conan Doyle estate argued that, while the first 50 stories (10 more were published after 1923) were no longer under copyright, its protection was extended for the character “Sherlock Holmes” . This argument was based on the fact that in the 10 stories published after 1923, Holmes’ character is further developed, essentially extending the character’s date of creation to the last character change made. Judge Posner points out that copyright for works subsequent to the original only secure the new changes. Thus, the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are not under copyright, but any changes made to them in the publications after 1923 are copyrighted.
Klinger expressed his pleasure with the ruling, stating “[t]he urge to publish more comes from the love for the first 60 stories, and people should be encouraged to create more.” Klinger hopes to publish his latest compilation in November.