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4 November 2014Copyright

Final defeat for Doyle Estate in Sherlock Holmes case

The US Supreme Court has drawn a line under the long running Sherlock Holmes dispute after it declined to hear an appeal by the estate of the late author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The court's nine justices declined to hear the appeal yesterday (November 3), upholding a ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

It means that various stories featuring the fictional British detective are now in the public domain, leaving authors free to portray him without the need for permission from the Conan Doyle Estate.

The initial dispute began in 2013 after author Leslie Klinger attempted to publish an anthology called In the Company of Sherlock Holmes.

After the Doyle Estate contacted the book’s publisher Pegasus to ask for a licensing agreement, the publishing house refused and said it wanted a court to use US copyright law to determine whether it could portray the character.

US law states that works published prior to 1923 are in the public domain. The majority of Doyle’s work is already in the public domain but ten of his short stories, published after 1923, continue to have copyright protection until 2022.

The estate used this to argue that the ten stories contained significant character developments from the earlier works and that any future representation of Holmes would constitute infringement of the entire collection.

Both the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected the claims before the Supreme Court backed both decisions.

Neither the Doyle Estate nor Leslie Klinger responded immediately to a request for comment.

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More on this story

5 November 2014   The battle surrounding copyright protection for fictional detective Sherlock Holmes may not yet be over, with the estate for the late author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle saying it may still sue after a disputed book is published.