“Klinger and the public may use the pre-1923 story elements without seeking a license” – Judge Castillo
It looks like fans of the Sherlock Holmes universe will finally receive the fresh content they’ve been craving. Valiant US District Court Chief Judge Ruben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois has made the noble ruling that the characters introduced into the Sherlock Holmes universe prior to January 1st, 1923 are now in the public domain. The ruling comes at the butt of a high profile legal case involving Leslie S. Klinger who filed a complaint against the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. in response to a letter the publisher, Pegasus Books, received from the Conan Doyle Estate insisting that they would do everything in their power to block the sale of the anthology unless it received an exuberant licensing fee for the use of the characters, which are no longer under copyright protection.
The anthology consists of newly written Sherlock Holmes stories and is titled: In the Company of Sherlock Holmes. Leslie Klinger and Laurie R. King are the editors of the anthology. The judgement comes at the peak of new-found interest in the Sherlock Holmes franchise.
“Sherlock Holmes belongs to the world and this ruling clearly establishes that” – Leslie Klinger
This doesn’t mean that all of the Sherlock Holmes stories and characters are public domain property, some elements are still protected under copyright law (the selected stories published after 01/01/1923 and some elements introduced in those stories). However, the declarative judgement does state that the characters: Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John H. Watson, Professor Moriarty and the 50 stories that they first appeared in are no longer under any copyright protection.
“People want to celebrate Holmes and Watson, and now they can do that without fear.” – Leslie Klinger
Now that the coast is clear, Mr. Klinger has plans in place to follow through with the publication that the Conan Doyle Estate tried to railroad and has said that he has “carefully avoided any post-1923 elements”. Klinger and other creatives have praised the ruling for alleviating the looming threat from the Conan Doyle estate. One online fan referred to the actions of the estate as a “vicious practice of knowingly making money off licensing characters they no longer have the legal right to”. Many creatives who had previously paid fees to the estate has rallied behind Klinger and Pegasus Books and even created a Twitter hashtag: #FreeSherlock to help identify advocates of the campaign.
Conan Doyle Estate attorney Benjamin W. Allison told the New York Times that they’re exploring their options, which will likely include an appeal.
Sources: New York Times, io9.com