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Copyright Doesn't Last Forever: Sherlock Holmes and the Public Domain

public domainThe Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has recently affirmed a decision stating that many of the older Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are in the public domain. The court held that just because later versions of a character are still protected by copyright, does not mean that the copyrights in those earlier stories continue to exist beyond the copyright term. The Doyle estate argued that the later stories added to the "complexity" of the characters and should provide some measure of protection.

From the Hollywood Reporter:

Added up, the judge says that the case to incentivize complexity in fiction can't mean extending intellectual property ownership forever. Judge Posner concludes, "The spectre of perpetual, or at least nearly perpetual, copyright … looms, once one realizes that the Doyle estate is seeking 135 years (1887–2022) of copyright protection for the character of Sherlock Holmes as depicted in the first Sherlock Holmes story."

The Doyle estate was previously collecting royalties for the many current versions of the Sherlock Holmes story, including BBC's "Sherlock" and CBS's "Elementary." Will more versions pop up, now that many of the earlier stories are in the public domain? Click here to read the full Hollywood Reporter article.

Categories: Copyright

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John brings a unique perspective to Foster Swift with his practical experience as an entrepreneur, business owner, and manager.  He focuses in the areas of business, tax, intellectual property and entertainment.

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