Public Domain, My Dear Watson? Lawsuit Challenges Conan Doyle Copyrights

Some 125 years after his first appearance, Sherlock Holmes remains a hot literary property, inspiring thousands of pastiches, parodies and sequels in print, to saying nothing of the hit Warner Bros. film starring Robert Downey Jr. and such television series as “Elementary” and the BBC’s “Sherlock.”

But according to a civil complaint filed on Thursday in federal court in Illinois by a leading Holmes scholar, many licensing fees paid to the Arthur Conan Doyle estate have been unnecessary, since the main characters and elements of their story derived from materials published before Jan. 1, 1923, are no longer covered by United States copyright law.

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