An Illinois district court judge recently ruled that the material contained in most of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writings about the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, would indeed enter the public domain this year. According to a December 27th New York Times article, the Doyle estate was “exploring an appeal,” but an attorney for the estate asserted that “the ruling did not imperil any existing licensing agreements or the estate’s separate claims under trademark law.” The Holmes novels and short stories have been public domain material in the UK since 2000
Much of this controversy has arisen as a result of multiple contemporary interpretations of the pipe-puffing sleuth and his sidekick, Dr. John Watson, and opinions differ greatly about the value of these newer portrayals of the fabled characters. These differences will most likely gain even more momentum now that authors and production companies will not be required to pay for the right to reference or re-imagine the detective duo.
The only exception to this “open season” on Doyle’s work is any information contained in the 10 stories he published in and after 1923. Juicy tidbits such as Watson’s exploits playing rugby for Blackheath, Holmes’ second wife, and other details will be off-limits until 2022. This delay will obviously not deter avid fans from using the materials that ARE available, but they will have to carefully avoid referencing any events or characters from the forbidden 10.
Here in Special Collections, we have a wide array of Holmes materials, some of which are now in public domain, and others which are not.
The department houses three manuscript collections dealing with the deerstalker detective:
2) The Stafford Davis collection of Sherlock Holmes archive, and
3) The Sherlock Holmes collection
These contain Holmes memorabilia, manuscripts, and other related materials. In addition to the manuscript collections, the department also houses over 800 volumes of Holmes-related books, newsletters, and pamphlets. These works not only consist of the actual adventures penned by Doyle himself, but also include several literary analysis pieces examining the impact of the Holmes legend.