Sherlock Holmes is free in the United States. In a decision dated 16 June 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh District ruled in favor of the plaintiff in Leslie S. Klinger v. Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. Judge Richard A. Posner describes "the issue as . . . whether copyright protection of a fictional character can be extended beyond the expiration of the copyright on it because the author altered the character in a subsequent work" and concludes that "Once the copyright on a work expires, the work becomes a part of the public domain and can be copied and sold without need to obtain a license from the holder of the expired copyright." Judge Posner continues, "The ten Holmes-Watson stories in which copyright persists are derivative from the earlier stories, so only original elements added in the later stories remain protected."
In a larger sense, Sherlock Holmes has always belonged to everyone. Every child that picks up The Hound of the Baskervilles for the first time takes ownership of Holmes, the hound, and the Grimpen Mire. It is love for Holmes, and the desire to have puzzles unraveled and mysteries demystified, that make us yearn to walk again and again up those seventeen steps and step into a room as familiar to us as our own.
In Holmes, Conan Doyle created an archetype and, like all archetypes, Sherlock Holmes can be the hero of millions of stories. So write, paint, film, dance, knit about Holmes with all the love for him you have held in your hearts since the day your imagination first walked down Baker Street.
The Editor's Gas-Lamp, Summer 2014, Vol. 64, No. 2.