Tag Archives: Leslie S. Klinger

The Case of the Copyrighted Characters

Long before the days of Star Trek, Harry Potter, and Twilight fan fiction, people were writing their own stories featuring the world’s first consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. In just the past few years, this most protean of icons has been reimagined as a steampunk action hero, a twenty-first century self-described high functioning sociopath, and – a New Yorker (though an immigrant).

One of the most famous fictional characters in the world, Sherlock Holmes was the creation of Arthur Conan Doyle. Nobody disputes that.

During his lifetime, and for years after his death, Conan Doyle and his descendants retained the right to profit from the good doctor’s intellectual labor. Nobody disputes that, either.

But copyright laws exist to strike a balance between the proprietary interests of the creator of intellectual property and the benefits to society of making such property freely available as part of the public domain. A recent lawsuit argues that Holmes and Watson have passed that line in the United States.

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