U.S. Judge Rules That Sherlock Holmes Remains in the Public Domain

Photo: Public Domain, from the British Library’s collections, 2013

A federal judge issued a ruling earlier this week reinforcing that Sherlock Holmes, one of the most popular fictional characters of all time, remains part of the public domain. The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed in February by Leslie S. Klinger, the editor of several Holmes-related books, who refused to pay a licensing fee to the estate of Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle in order to publish a collection of stories. Despite the fact that the character fell into public-domain use many years ago, the estate continues to ask those using the Holmes character for money, arguing that the existence of ten stories published after 1923, which remain under copyright until 2023, means that the character as a whole remains protected. The ruling reaffirms the public-domain status of most Sherlock Holmes elements, while also maintaining that anything found in those ten post-1923 stories cannot be used without paying the estate.

For more background on the case, you can read this Slate piece, this New York Times piece, and this Economist piece. Read the full court decision here.

Judge Rules Sherlock Holmes in Public Domain