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

  • TV News Roundup: Netflix Drops Trailer

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Drops Trailer for Ryan Murphy's 'The Politician' (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix has drops the first trailer for “The Politician,” and “Killing Eve” adds two to its cast for season 3.  CASTING Harriet Walter and Danny Sapani, both alums of “The Crown,” are set to join the cast of “Killing Eve” for its third season. British writer Suzanne Heathcote, whose past credits include [...]

  • Lady Gaga

    Variety Earns 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Award Nominations

    Variety has received 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie award nominations for its coverage of the entertainment industry over the past year. The awards gala, which will take place at The Hilton Midtown in New York City on Oct. 30, celebrates publications that have demonstrated impressive investigative journalism, in addition to thoughtful digital and print design. [...]

  • Disneyland

    Disney Shares Slip Amid Reported Whistleblower Allegations of Inflated Revenue

    Sandra Kuba, a former senior financial analyst for Disney’s revenue operations unit, says she has filed a series of whistleblower tips with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, alleging that the entertainment conglomerate repeatedly and systematically overstated its revenue for years, according to a MarketWatch report, by as much as $6 billion in a single [...]

  • Bob Bakish Joe Ianniello

    ViacomCBS Sets Board Members; Bob Bakish, Joe Ianniello New Deals Disclosed

    ViacomCBS has unveiled the 13 members of its board of directors and details of new employment contracts for president-CEO Bob Bakish and CBS chairman-CEO Joe Ianniello. The disclosure came Monday in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, six days after Viacom and CBS at long last set an all-stock merger agreement valued at [...]

  • Carrie Underwood, left, and Reba McEntire

    CMAs Make Hosting Change: Brad Paisley Exits, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire Are In

    The CMA Awards have had the most consistent hosting situation of any music awards show in television, but 11 years after installing Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood as the reliable faces of the telecast, even ABC and the Country Music Association have decided it’s time for a switch. Come Nov. 13, Underwood will return for [...]

  • Ava Max iHeartRadio Wango Tango, Portraits,

    Megan Thee Stallion, CNCO, Ava Max to Perform at VMAs Pre-show

    CNCO, Megan Thee Stallion and “Sweet but Psycho” singer Ava Max (pictured) have been added to the performer lineup at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. The three will take the stage during the VMAs’ red carpet pre-show, hosted by Terrence J and Nessa. Zara Larsson will join the two hosts as a special correspondent. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content