This article originally appeared in the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada. Click here to read the full article.
By Logan Albright
Good news for all you aspiring fan fiction writers out there! At long last, 125 years after Arthur Conan Doyle first set pen to paper to craft “A Study in Scarlet,” the beloved detective archetype “Sherlock Holmes” is entering the public domain. If you are surprised to learn that, until now, Holmes and Watson have been continuously protected by copyright law, with all adaptations being legally require to pay royalties to the Conan Doyle estate, you are not alone. Conan Doyle died in 1930, so under American copyright law, the copyright on Holmes (and all of Doyle’s other creations) would have expired as long ago as 2005.
But in Great Britain, copyright protection is even stronger than it is here on the other side of the pond. In fact, even now, not all of the Holmes stories are free for public use. Watson’s second wife or the fact that he played rugby were established in later stories, and hence still protected by copyright. That’s right, you can write anything you want about John Watson, making it up out of whole cloth as you go. You can make him a pirate or an astronaut or a fireman, but try alleging that he is a rugby player and you could find yourself on the other side of a lawsuit. Conan Doyle’s estate still owns that concept.