The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that part of Sherlock Holmes’s character is in the public domain—but the complete Holmes character is still protected by copyright. The court affirmed that the last ten original Sherlock Holmes stories contain the full portrayal of Holmes and Watson, and all character development in those ten stories is protected by the Estate’s copyrights. The protected material includes Holmes’ friendship with Watson, certain of his skills, Holmes’s growing emotion and warmth as a human being, and a host of other details that make for the full portrayal of Holmes and Watson as the world knows them.
The court specifically did not rule on whether Mr. Klinger’s forthcoming book infringes the Estate’s rights. It remains to be seen whether in practice it is possible for Mr. Klinger to use the characters without using protected character development.
The Estate looks forward to continuing to work with many partners to bring these much-loved characters to the world in new ways, and to protect the characters in accord with the present decision.
At the same time the Estate is disappointed with that decision, which reduces the incentive for authors to create great literature by cutting short the value of copyrights protecting two of the world’s great characters. The Estate is considering an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
Issued: June 16, 2014