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Sherlock Holmes Lives in the Public Domain, as Court Upholds Ruling Over Copyright The Guardian

Sherlock Holmes and his partner Watson are living in the public domain, with a U.S. court ruling upholding an earlier judgment that the copyright on many of Arthur Conan Doyle’s works about the famous detective had expired, reports the U.K. publication The Guardian.

The case originated when the Doyle estate threatened legal action against the editor of a book of original Holmes fiction if he didn’t pay $5,000 in licensing fees, the story notes.

Even though his publisher, Random House, paid the fees, the editor, Leslie Klinger, believed the Holmes stories were out of copyright. When he worked on a sequel, he was again threatened with legal action by the Doyle estate, prompting Klinger to sue.

Klinger argued that he wasn’t infringing on 10 Holmes stories that remain under copyright protection, which include details about Watson’s second marriage, the story notes. Copyright in the U.S. depends on a number of issues, such as when a piece was published and whether it was a hired work.

The estate argued that the copyright should apply because Holmes was made a “round” character in the last 10 stories.

“Flat characters thus don’t evolve. Round characters do; Holmes and Watson, the estate argues, were not fully rounded off until the last story written by Doyle. What this has to do with copyright law eludes us,” wrote Judge Richard A. Posner of the seventh U.S. circuit court of appeals, in the court’s opinion.

The article notes, “The decision is one of the few where a reader might find a federal court discussing 'Star Wars.' Judges said that the estate’s argument was tantamount to an argument that copyrights on 'Star Wars, Episodes IV, V and VI' were extended because of the release of 'Episodes I, II and III.'”

“We don’t see how that can justify extending the expired copyright on the flatter character,” Posner wrote.

sir arthur conan doyle.jpgSir Arthur Conan Doyle