All but the final 10 of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories were published in the U.S. before 1923 and are now in the public domain, but this has not stopped his estate from trying to extract licensing fees from those who wish to create new tales or movies starring the pipe-smoking ur-detective. So, writer Leslie Klinger brought a declaratory judgment action in federal court to obtain the assurance his publisher needed that an anthology of new Holmes stories would be perfectly legal. Just before Christmas, the federal court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled in his favor. The judge explained that all pre-1923 elements of the Holmes character were unprotected, but any new character traits developed in the final 10 stories would still be protected by copyright. I don’t remember any new twists, but if the last installment of Conan Doyle’s work revealed that Holmes was really an elderly woman from Yorkshire, perhaps that bit of ground might be off-limits.

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