Ever since Arthur Conan Doyle passed away, writers have been complaining about the crappy behavior of the Doyle Estate.* So it came as no surprise that, when the Holmes stories passed into the public domain, the Estate kept right on claiming that they had the right and duty to keep charging for use of the characters and quotes.
And since writers and publishers are mostly not a litigious lot, they put up with legal threats and prettified extortion of money.
So this week, a scholarly gentleman who loves truth triumphed over the forces of thuggery, and got Sherlock Holmes (and all his fellow pre-1923 characters and settings) declared to be part of the public domain in the United States. This ruling doesn’t apply in the EU and elsewhere, but it sure applies to a lot of excellent projects about Holmes.
Here’s the ruling from Judge Castillo. (A Solomon come to judgment!)
Of course, Klinger didn’t win everything. His lawyers’ attempt to get “events” in post-1923 stories to be ruled public domain was slapped down, albeit genially. But this was probably a sacrificial offering, to let the judge show fairness to the Doyle Estate.
However, the judge definitely didn’t have any truck with the Estate’s bizarre argument that, since the post-1922 stories still in copyright continued to develop the characters and settings, you have to be thinking about “The Adventure of the Three Gables” any time you write a story based on “A Study in Scarlet” (the first published Holmes story), which was written nearly fifty years before. Obviously this is stupid. And the judge was not amused.
* (Most notably in Doyle’s son Adrian’s treatment of John Dickson Carr, demanding the lion’s share of the money and his name first on stories, which was notorious to the point that Anthony Boucher fictionally skewered and killed Adrian in his mystery, The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars.)