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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

No SCOTUS Chapter in Sherlock Holmes Case

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Supreme Court declined Monday to pen a chapter in the lapsed copyright protection for Sir Author Conan Doyle's famous detective character Sherlock Holmes.

Leslie Klinger, a Sherlock Holmes expert, had sued the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. in February 2013, claiming that it has no copyright on the Holmes character or that of his trusty sidekick Watson. She claimed both them and the world of Baker Street, as the key elements of that fictional world, including 46 of the 56 Sherlock Holmes stories, belonged to the public domain.

Klinger has written two dozen books and numerous articles on Conan Doyle's four novels and 56 stories featuring Sherlock Holmes, which includes a collection published by W.W. Norton titled "The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes."

Warner Bros. even used Klinger as its technical adviser for its recent Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey Jr.

Klinger says all of the Sherlock Holmes story elements entered the public domain in 1980, 50 years after Conan Doyle's death.

While Conan Doyle's last surviving child, Dame Jean Conan Doyle, re-registered the copyright to "The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes" in the United States in 1981, "none of the Sherlock Holmes Story Elements first appeared in 'The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes' or in the stories that comprise the collection, and none of the Sherlock Holmes Story Elements are protected by any copyright that may still apply to 'The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes' or its constituent stories under U.S. law," Klinger's complaint alleged.

Two of the 12 stories in this collection were published in the United States before 1923, but most of the Sherlock Holmes story elements were published in earlier stories.

The Holmes character first appeared in 1887.

U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo agreed with Klinger nearly a year ago that the Holmes character and all story elements published before 1923 are in the public domain.

After the Conan Doyle Estate lost its appeal to the 7th Circuit, the Supreme Court denied it relief Monday without comments, per its custom.

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