Litigious Arthur Conan Doyle Estate targets Netflix book adaptation Enola Holmes

Through the years, we’ve encountered numerous stories about lawsuits over the use of Sherlock Holmes. The Arthur Conan Doyle estate can and will sue for infringement. Guess I somewhat get where they are coming from, but it’s troubling considering the author has been dead for many, many years now.

Eventually all copyrighted work should go into the public domain. I understand and agree with the concept of an author dying prematurely and heirs having some years residual stake to his/her creative works thereafter. If the author is alive and can benefit, great, pay the author, but Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate receiving licensing fees in 2020?

As it turns out the United States copyright protection on Sherlock Holmes will run out in 2023. So, if you’re sitting on a good, ripping Holmes yarn, you don’t have long to wait.

In the meantime, however, Netflix is the most current in the Doyle estatate crosshairs over the film adaptation of a book featuring a young teenage sister of Sherlock’s known as Enola Holmes.

The suit claims that, despite most of the original pre-1923 Sherlock Holmes tales have been judged to be in the public domain, the author’s last 10 stories about the character — published between 1923 and 1927 — are not. And the Doyle estate is claiming that the Enola Holmes books and movie incorporate something those only later stories included: the famously stoic detective’s emotions.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Estate Sues Netflix, Legendary & Others Over ‘Enola Holmes’ Film

There are a whopping 10 stories that showed Sherlock Holmes had emotions and those are still not in the public domain for a few more years. That’s right, Sherlock Holmes emotions as depicted in stories some 70+ years ago, are still the subject of legal scrutiny.

While I did some searching around, my memory was that the estate also had problems with the use of Sherlock Holmes in the holodeck for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Seemed like the writers were inspired by Doyle’s work and wanted to honor and respect it, not infringe upon it. This is an urban legend, however, because a license fee was paid:

…according to Jon Lellenberg, an attorney who’s served as the U.S. agent for the Conan Doyle estate, it’s not true at all. In fact, Paramount had worked with the Conan Doyle estate on the Stephen Spielberg-produced movie Young Sherlock Holmes. So Paramount’s rights department was already well aware that Holmes was not in the public domain, and they contacted the Conan Doyle estate in advance, seeking permission to dress Data as Holmes and feature Moriarty. The Conan Doyle estate was happy to agree, in exchange for a handsome payment.

The Truth About Star Trek And Sherlock Holmes

As for Netflix’s Enola Holmes movie? It’s coming in September 2020. Whether or not a license fee will have to be paid remains in dispute. Should this be a thing in 2020? That’s my question. Let me know what you think.

I think an author’s life + say 25 years is how copyright law should read. We don’t need great, great, great grandchildren financially benefiting from a deceased author’s work unless s/he has continued to create works using said characters in his/her/their lives.

3 thoughts on “Litigious Arthur Conan Doyle Estate targets Netflix book adaptation Enola Holmes

  1. While I agree with you on your main point devil’s advocate makes me wonder if something shouldn’t be paid regardless. I mean for an iconic character like Sherlock in almost all of the modern adaptations he is the selling point of the story even if he’s reimagined it’s still an author benefitting of the creation of another….

    So while I agree with you I also don’t necessarily mind the idea of a licensing fee perhaps. It’s a sticky subject I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do like the idea of paying licensing fees assuming the current license holder is continuing to create new creative works once the author has died. Not sure that’s the case here, but then I haven’t kept up on new Sherlock Holmes mysteries by the heirs.

      If those running the Arthur Conan Doyle estate were continuing to produce Sherlock Holmes stories of their own creation, I think their argument for keeping licensing of the work beyond 75+ years makes sense.

      But if they are not creating any new works, then it looks like their just trying to profit off the creative work of an author long gone. At some point that gravy train should end, allowing others to create works licensing-free. The fee may prevent some really good works from being created.

      I’m an author, too, when I’m gone my work needs to go into the public domain at some reasonable amount of time in the future. Maybe somebody creative will take the characters in some really cool, innovative ways that I didn’t think of or wasn’t able to do during my lifetime. That’s the beauty of the system. Don’t stifle creativity.


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