The estate has zealously sought to protect its rights to Sherlock Holmes, even as most of the stories have slipped past the 95-year window for copyright protection in the U.S.
In June 2014, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that the character is in the public domain, and rejected the estate’s effort to block distribution of a book of stories based on the Holmes mysteries.
Conan Doyle wrote 56 stories and four novels based on the character between 1887 and 1927. All of them will be outside of U.S. copyright protection in 2023.
The Netflix film is due out in August, and is adapted from “The Enola Holmes Mysteries,” a series of six novels written by Nancy Springer, and published between 2006 and 2010.
In the lawsuit, the estate alleges that Springer’s novels draw on the 10 stories published between 1923 and 1927, in which the coldly analytical detective is depicted — for the first time — as capable of empathy and friendship.
The suit quotes from a scene in one of the novels in which Sherlock Holmes express “controlled anguish” when Dr. Watson goes missing, and is presumed dead or kidnapped.
“Nowhere in the public domain stories does Holmes express such emotion about the well-being of his companion John Watson,” the suit alleges. “This friendship was not created by Springer in the Enola Holmes Mysteries. It was created in the Copyrighted Stories and copied by Springer.”
The Conan Doyle Estate filed a similar suit against Miramax in 2015, alleging that “Mr. Holmes,” starring Ian McKellen, also infringed on the “emotional” Holmes depicted in the final 10 stories. That suit was settled out of court and dismissed a few months later.