Sherlock and co are finally in the public domain

Patrick writes, "After more than 125 years and countless crappy incarnations on film, A federal judge has issued a declarative judgment stating that Holmes, Watson, 221B Baker Street, the dastardly Professor Moriarty and other elements included in the 50 Holmes works Arthur Conan Doyle published before Jan. 1, 1923, are no longer covered by United States copyright law and can be freely used by creators without paying any licensing fee to the Conan Doyle estate."

The estate are notorious bullies, and have relied upon bizarre legal theories to extract funds from people who use the Sherlock canon characters in new works, even though those characters come from stories that are largely in the public domain.

"They've heard about the way the estate is going around bullying people," said Darlene Cypser, a lawyer in Denver and the author of a self-published trilogy about the young Holmes, for which the estate initially demanded a licensing fee. (She declined to pay, she said.) "This has been coming for some time. I'm glad Les decided to take it up."

Several other authors and publishers of Holmes-based work reported receiving somewhat friendlier versions of a threatening letter cited in Mr. Klinger's complaint. In the letter Mr. Lellenberg suggested that the estate regularly worked with "Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and similar retailers" to "weed out unlicensed uses of Sherlock Holmes," and would not hesitate to do so with Mr. Klinger's volume as well.

Mr. Klinger did pay a fee for a similar collection in 2011 at the insistence of his earlier publisher, but this time said he is calling the estate's bluff. "It's the ultimate case of the emperor having no clothes," said Jonathan Kirsch, a publishing lawyer who represents him. "Everyone is making the decision to pay for permission they don't need to avoid the costs and risks of litigation."

Suit Says Sherlock Belongs to the Ages [Jennifer Schuessler/NYT]

(Thanks, Patrick!)

(Image: A Study in Scarlet (Beeton's Christmas Annual), a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from 43021516@N06's photostream)