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“Not So Elementary,” says Supreme Court on use of Sherlock Holmes

Posted Monday, November 3, 2014 by Andrew Charles Huff

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a copyright dispute over the right to portray Sherlock Holmes in a new series of stories. The case involved an appeal from heirs of legendary writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who say anyone portraying characters from the popular detective series must seek permission or pay a licensing fee.

However, a U.S. district court had previously ruled that copyrights had expired on all Sherlock Holmes novels and stories published before 1923, but not on the final 10 stories published after that. The lower court said author Leslie Klinger could use characters from pre-1923 works and a federal appeals court agreed.

The Doyle estate argued that the characters continued to develop in later works so they should remain off-limits until remaining copyrights run out in 2022.

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