Sherlock Holmes Materials In Public Domain

March 12, 2014


Neil J. Rosini

That some Conan Doyle stories are still protected by copyright doesn't preserve pre 1923 versions of Holmes and Watson from the public domain.

A federal court in Illinois, following New York precedent, decided that various characters, character traits, dialogue, settings, artifacts and other story elements from the four Sherlock Holmes novels and 46 stories by Arthur Conan Doyle published before 1923, entered the public domain and are “free for public use.”  The court rejected the argument of Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. (CDE) that the continuing development of the Holmes and Watson characters in ten subsequent Conan Doyle stories, which are still protected by copyright, preserved those characters from the public domain.  According to the decision, it was not necessary for the plaintiff, Leslie S. Klinger, to obtain CDE’s permission to put those pre 1923 elements in new stories but post 1923 story elements that built upon the prior works were still protected by copyright.  Would the result be both a public domain version and a copyrighted version of the Conan Doyle characters?  “[P]recisely what other courts have done,” said the court, although most key character traits and other story elements appeared first in the public domain novels and stories.  (Klinger v. Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd., No. 13C 1226, N.D. Ill., Eastern Division).  Please contact  Neil Rosini [email protected] for more information.