Sherlock Holmes has been freed by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The estate of Arthur Conan Doyle claimed copyright over the character who first appeared in 1887 and has appeared in more than fifty-six stories and four novels. The copyright claim stems from the final ten stories, published between 1913 and 1927.
The court ruling (PDF) releases the character into the public domain while maintaing the copyright on the final stories. In the argument, the judges cite Star Wars as a contemporary example, stating that the release of Episode III no more extends the copyright on the original 1977 film than do the last ten stories protect Sherlock.
The Doyle estate sought licensing fees from Leslie Klinger, author of A Study in Sherlock: Stories inspired by the Holmes Canon. Klinger’s publisher paid the initial fee, but decided to challenge the estate as Klinger prepared a second book. The New York Times reports that the estate has yet to decide whether it will appeal the court’s decision.