Innovation Asset Blog

Sherlock Holmes not under US copyright, judge rules

Federal Judge Ruben Castillo found characters Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are not protected by U.S. copyright law this month. In a case brought against author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate, lawyer and Holmes scholar Leslie Klinger argued against the estate's contention that the characters of Holmes and Watson remain under copyright protection because 10 of Conan Doyle's stories are still under copyright.

Castillo agreed with Klinger, finding every story involving the famous detective following the first - "A Study in Scarlet" - should be considered a derivative based on the original. As such, the use of the characters Holmes and Watson, and any others appearing in works published before Jan. 1, 1923, no longer means publishers must pay royalties to the estate. Instead, royalties will be owed for any works that make use of information, such as Watson's past athletic endeavors or Holmes' eventual retirement, that comes from works published after that date.

Castillo's interpretation of copyright law, in which he determined the characters of Holmes and Watson were fully formed as of the first work featuring them rather than cumulative repositories of information from the entire series, is one that could have interesting effects on future intellectual property cases, according to The Washington Post.

Peter Ackerman

Peter Ackerman

Founder & CEO, Innovation Asset Group, Inc.