You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sherlock Holmes to Remain in Public Domain After Supreme Court Declines Case

The Supreme Court declined to take a case brought by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle that challenged whether the character of Sherlock Holmes was in the public domain.

The high court’s non-action means author Leslie Klinger does not have to pay license fees to the estate as he publishes modern anthologies of works featuring the famous detective, as long as they don’t infringe on new elements of the character Doyle introduced in works published in the 1920s that still fall under copyright.

The estate demanded and received $5,000 from Random House when it published Klinger’s anthology of modern Holmes stories. But when Klinger sought to do a follow-up, and the estate sought a license fee from Pegasus Books, the publisher apparently considered it a latent threat to sue and refused to publish the anthology. Klinger then sued.

In August, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Illinois again ruled in favor of Klinger, concluding that they “could find no basis in statute or case law for extending a copyright beyond its expiration.” Judge Richard Posner, in an opinion awarding Klinger almost $31,000 in attorneys fees, wrote that the “Doyle estate’s business strategy is plain: charge a modest license fee for which there is no legal basis, in the hope that the ‘rational’ writer or publisher asked for the fee will pay it rather than incur a greater cost, in legal expenses, in challenging the legality of the demand.”

He added, “It’s time the estate, in its own self interest, changed its business model.”

The estate had argued that the depiction of Holmes and other characters in works still under copyright were more “rounded” than those in the public domain, meaning they could still claim protection for the character in new works. But the appellate court rejected that argument.

The estate has given its stamp of approval to “Sherlock” on PBS and “Elementary” on CBS, but it’s unclear what the status will be or if they are currently paying license fees. Spokesmen for the production company behind “Sherlock” and “Elementary” could not immediately be reached.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Judith Light'Transparent' TV show Musical Finale,

    'Transparent' Team Talks 'Transformative Energy' of Trans Community

    As Amazon Prime Video prepares to send off “Transparent” with a musical finale movie on Sept. 27, the cast and creative team behind the show are hoping the impact of a character such as Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) will not be overshadowed by the controversy that the actor who portrayed Maura caused. “I believe that [...]

  • Cherry Jones

    Cherry Jones Wins 2019 Guest Drama Actress Emmy

    Cherry Jones won the 2019 guest drama actress Emmy for her work as the titular character’s mother, Holly Osborne, in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” This was Jones’ second consecutive nomination for the role but first win. Interestingly, both noms were for her work in the second season of the dystopian streaming series. After a few [...]

  • Jane Lynch, Cyndi Lauper Developing 'Golden

    Jane Lynch, Cyndi Lauper Developing 'Golden Girls'-Style Comedy for Netflix

    Jane Lynch and Cyndi Lauper just wanna have fun. The comedian and the 1980s music icon have joined forces to star in a new comedy project that may be heading to Netflix. Lynch let it slip backstage at the Creative Arts Emmys that she and Lauper will co-star in a comedy that she described as [...]

  • Luke Kirby71st Annual Primetime Creative Arts

    Luke Kirby Wins 2019 Guest Comedy Actor Emmy

    Luke Kirby has been crowned the winner of the 2019 guest comedy actor Emmy for his role as the real-life comic Lenny Bruce on Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” This was Kirby’s first-ever Emmy attention. He was nominated against a slew of “Saturday Night Live” players (Robert De Niro, John Mulaney and Adam [...]

  • Bradley Whitford photographed at the PMC

    Bradley Whitford Wins 2019 Guest Drama Actor Emmy

    Bradley Whitford won the 2019 guest drama actor Emmy for his role of Commander Joseph Lawrence on Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Whitford joined the cast of the streaming dystopian series at the end of its second season, in episodes that were released after the close of the 2018 Emmy eligibility window. The Television Academy agreed [...]

  • TV Review: 'Transparent' Series Finale

    TV Review: 'Transparent' Series Finale

    Amazon’s “Transparent” will have a chapter, or a section of one, in some to-be-written history of television, in part thanks to how brazen and how daring its ideas were for its moment. Some of those were ideas that came to seem simply logical in retrospect: The show was a pathbreaker for trans representation onscreen, casting [...]

  • Jane Lynch NBC Relatively Happy

    Jane Lynch Wins 2019 Guest Comedy Actress Emmy

    Jane Lynch has been crowned the winner of the 2019 guest comedy actress Emmy for her role of comic Sophie Lennon on Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” This was Lynch’s second consecutive nomination for the role but first win. However, it is her fifth Emmy overall, after winning a short form statue in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content