Arthur Conan Doyle’s Estate Flexes Its Muscles…But Comes Up Short Anyhow

If it seems as though Sherlock Holmes is strangely everywhere in popular culture these days, it’s not your imagination.

The 2009 Guy Ritchie film “Sherlock Holmes” seems to have ushered in a new era of interest in London’s most famous (fictional) detective. Both “Elementary” on CBS and “Sherlock” on BBC America have become hits, and sales of author Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories have ticked upwards.

Naturally, Doyle’s estate would like to cash in on this resurgence of interest.

There’s a problem, though; most of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are so old they are no longer under copyright and are in the public domain. That means other parties can use and adapt them without paying a licensing fee to Doyle’s estate.

In an attempt not to get cut out entirely, Doyle’s estate recently sued a literary agency that was publishing material inspired by 10 stories that do still enjoy copyright protection. Its argument was that since Holmes was mentioned in the copyrighted work, then he should still be protected against all uses (and a license fee would still be due). A judge found just the opposite, however, and opined that since Holmes is mentioned in work that is no longer under copyright protection, the character is free to be used without any license fee.

This is another example of an estate exercising valuable and important legal rights. Hopefully, this post and some of the other recently published posts illustrate why estates are valuable things to have after you’ve gone.

If you are interested in learning more about creating your own estate plan, please know you can contact us.